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Heathcliff: a Sympathetic Victim to a Diabolical Villain

By PrincessMia Oct 12, 2010 2495 Words
Heathcliff: From Sympathetic Victim to Diabolical Villain
Revenge is formally defined as the desire for vengeance. Many people have felt this way, mainly towards people who have made them suffer any time in their lives. A recurring theme in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is revenge. Heathcliff, the main character, felt this way throughout the majority of the novel. His reasons for his villainous behavior were, in some instances, a way a victim could get back at his past oppressor, and at other times, his treatment of innocent people was just pure evil. Throughout his life, Heathcliff was extremely discriminated against. Hindley, Heathcliff’s main tyrant, did everything in his ability to make his life insufferable. Edgar Linton, a friend of the Earnshaw family, took Catherine, Heathcliff’s true love, away from him. So Heathcliff found that he could get his revenge in full if he did the same immoral things to them and also to their children. The motive of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847) is vengeance.

“Relieved of all impertinences of time and place, the situation is this: a man sits down and reflects: I was born in shame; men have denied me education; and they have taken from me the woman I loved, on the ground that I am unworthy of her. I am not responsible for being what I am; I did not preside over my birth; the demon within me that I tried to suppress, others loosed from his bands. The vengeance that the Almighty has allowed to sleep I will make and wreak upon those who have wronged me, and upon their children.” (Cross, Vol. # 7).

Although Heathcliff was seen as a victim in the beginning of the novel, where he garnered sympathy from the reader, it later became apparent that he metamorphasized into a villain, a spirit who was eager to bring revenge upon those who were cruel to him in life. Instead of bringing the gifts he promised Catherine and Hindley from his trip to Liverpool, Mr. Earnshaw, Catherine and Hindley’s father, brought home a dirty, raggedy, gypsy-like little boy, who was baptized as Heathcliff. Most of the Earnshaw family members responded to Heathcliff’s arrival in a rude manner and then, when Mr. Earnshaw died, their attitude towards the “gypsy brat” turned inhumane. The once respectful household was forever disrupted from the moment Heathcliff set foot in Wuthering Heights. The profound hate Hindley, Nelly, and Joseph had for the innocent child grew quickly and corrupted the atmosphere in this home. Heathcliff’s difference is emphasized from the time Mr. Earnshaw brings him to Wuthering Heights, a boy he found in Liverpool starving and homeless, whom even Earnshaw called “it”: “you must e’en take it as a gift of God, thought it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (32). Nelly called Heathcliff a “gypsy brat” (33), and … Hindley, called him a “dog” and an “imp of Satan” (35).

Since Mr. Earnshaw saw Heathcliff as his center of interest, he defended and protected him from people or things that could do him any harm. After several years, when Mr. Earnshaw died and Hindley became the head of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff received considerable torture from him. Heathcliff here is not the instigator, but the recipient of violence; violence which his arrival has provoked in that defensive, exclusive family unit. Hindley treated the “unwanted gypsy” as anyone would treat a servant, or an animal, for that matter. As a result of the horrible treatment Heatcliff received from Hindley, he sunk into more savagery, and with no one to look after him, he rarely washed or studied, he became a dumb ruffian entirely unschooled and a total brute. Poor Heathcliff became the unfortunate victim of hate and jealousy several of the family members had on him, but after many years of torment bottled up inside of him, he sought to get revenge on the people who made him suffer.

Heathcliff doesn’t remain a victim all his life: he deliberately resolves to free himself from the humiliation of oppression by attaining for himself the status of an oppressor. Heathcliff overheard Catherine when she told Nelly about her relationship with Edgar and accepting his proposal for marriage and ran away, disappointed, for several years. When he returned he was an educated gentleman with money. One way or the other, Heathcliff eventually got his revenge on Hindley and the other characters that mistreated him. He accomplished this by doing evil and inhumane things back to Hindley, Isabella, Linton, and young Cathy all of whom ruined his life with painful words and brutal acts. When he returned to Wuthering Heights as an adult, he immediately began to lead Hindley Earnshaw to perdition; he courted Isabella Linton not out of love, but desire for revenge (102); he broke up the marriage between Catherine and Edgar (117); he had a fight with Hindley in which he knocked him down and kicked him (163); there was evidence that he murdered Hindley(169); he degraded and changed Hareton(171); he treated his own son Linton with utter cruelty (209), trapping the second Cathy into marrying Linton (256), and finally allowed Linton to die without calling a doctor (270). When he turns into this vengeful character, he not only changes his appearance, his sentiments and thoughts become evil and he transforms into a horrible, perverted villain. Hindley Earnshaw was the character who hated Heathcliff the most. He felt this way because Heathcliff suddenly became Mr. Earnshaw’s favorite child even though he wasn’t his own flesh and blood. Naturally, Hindley felt jealous and began to accumulate bits and pieces of hatred, every time Heathcliff received his father’s love and affection instead of him. When both of these boys grew older, Hindley took over Wuthering Heights and made Heathcliff’s life unbearable. Heathcliff’s life was in total shambles. An example of Hindley’s inhumane behavior was the inconsiderate act he did upon Catherine’s return from Thrushcross Grange. The only way Heathcliff was allowed to greet his life-long companion was as a servant and nothing more. Hindley treated Heathcliff no better than a servant, and slowly his sense of self-worth was eroded. He became bitter and hateful. When Catherine arrived at Wuthering Heights, she was an entirely different person. According to Victorian society, she became “civilized.” Since then, Edgar began to have feelings for Catherine and they would go on outings quite frequently. He eventually proposed to Catherine, and she answered yes. That same evening, she went to talk to Nelly Dean, the housekeeper of the Earnshaw and Linton families, about her deep, loving feelings for Heathcliff. She told Nelly that she would not rise if she stayed with him. Heathcliff heard Catherine when she told Nelly Dean that if she married Heathcliff they would both be beggars and so it would degrade her to marry him. He felt that Catherine had not chosen him because Hindley treated him as a poor, good-for-nothing bum. Here he is viewed as a victim.

All of Heathcliff’s hatred was focused on Hindley, and he had become violent and bent on revenge. As an adult Heathcliff changed entirely. When he returned, he was an educated gentleman with money. Heathcliff uses his mysteriously acquired wealth to take possession of the Heights and the Grange. He takes possessions of them because each thing and person in each household reminds him of Catherine. By appropriating all and then destroying them, he can take revenge on the enemies who have stood between him and Catherine. Heathcliff’s revenge was soon fulfilled when Hindley’s wife, Frances, died. Hindley was struck with such terrible grief, that he became a drunkard, mourning over the unfortunate death of his young partner. Since he was always intoxicated. Heathcliff, of course, sought the opportunity to totally take over Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff allowed Hindley to slowly and painfully approach his death. He never told him to stop drinking and to recuperate so he could raise his son properly. Heathcliff made sure that all he did was lay around and drink all day. One time Hindley tried to kill him, but was way too drunk to succeed in doing so. To punish his “improper” behavior, Heathcliff severely beat him. Making Hindley’s life a living hell was probably Heathcliff’s greatest accomplishment. For doing such grotesque things, he was seen as a villain, but in this case he had all right to do so. It is difficult to sympathize with Heathcliff’s actions after he returns, even though we may recognize in them a rough moral justice. Heathcliff gave Hindley a taste of his own medicine. Catherine and Heathcliff got along the minute they met each other. They did everything together. Their relationship was incredible. As children, they were hardly inseparable, running together on the moors and mocking together Joseph’s superstitions and tedious pieties. As years passed, their close friendship converted into love. The love Heathcliff had for Catherine was infinite, very similar to an obsession. Even after Catherine married Edgar, they had a burning love for one another that no one could extinguish. Catherine died giving birth to her and Edgar’s daughter, Cathy. As she grew older her personality would be classified as youthful and passionate. Once again, Heathcliff felt that he had to get revenge from another person. He wanted revenge from Cathy because he felt that since her mother died giving birth to her, Catherine’s death was entirely her fault. This is totally false, but in Heathcliff’s mind Cathy had to pay for the “horrible thing” she did to her mother and to him. To get back at Catherine’s murderer, Heathcliff planned to torment Cathy’s life also supremely miserable. When Cathy tried to get her cousin, Linton, back from Wuthering Heights she accidentally got trapped in Heathcliff’s evil wrath. He abused her terribly and even made her marry Linton, which was exceedingly perverse on Heathcliff’s part. The drastic transformation from her past life to her unfortunate new one made Cathy break down psychologically. It was obvious that she had too much stress and worries for her age, which was at least fifteen. Heathcliff was so determined to ruin this girl, that he didn’t even allow her to go see her father, Edgar, when he was terribly sick and on his death bed. The unjustified attitude Heathcliff had towards Cathy unequivocally showed him to be a villainous human being. The union between Hindley and Frances Earnshaw produced an innocent baby by the name of Hareton. Frances died while giving birth to this child, and because of this, Hindley gave up on life and drank himself into a deep depression. When Hindley finally died, Heathcliff went to Wuthering Heights to see if all was well. He found Hareton, who must have been around five or six years old, abandoned and took him under his custody. Heathcliff again believed that he could get revenge from the dreadful Hindley if he destroyed his son’s life as well. Hareton’s life was ruined in a much less violent way, for him at least. Heathcliff perverted him and made him go on his side. He mostly mentally abused Hareton rather than did any physical harm to him. For example, when Linton was forced to live in Wuthering Heights he never received the letters Cathy sent him. The reason for this was because Heathcliff made Hareton write whatever he dictated back to Cathy, as if Linton wrote it. Another example of Heathcliff’s mind games was how Hareton allowed him to abuse Cathy. Eventually when he and Cathy actually met and talked to each other, Hareton was finally released from Heathcliff’s evil spell. He came to realize that Heathcliff’s mentality was negligent and that he could never succeed in life searching for revenge from innocent people. The best evidence that showed how Heathcliff had pure villainous blood running through his veins was how he wanted to get revenge from his own son. Linton was the product of the unexpected union between Isabella, Edgar’s sister, and Heathcliff. The only reason why Heathcliff eloped with Isabella was to, again, find revenge, from who is unclear, but it seemed that it might have been to get back at her or Edgar. Isabella, because she used to criticize and make fun of Heathcliff when he was “just a servant” in Wuthering Heights. Edgar, probably because he took his dear Catherine away from him. Isabella eventually ran off to London and raised Linton in that home. After many years Heathcliff decided to go claim his son and took him to live in Wuthering Heights. There he didn’t treat him as a son. He was treated as an object that was used to unjustly take the money and land from the Linton family. Heathcliff made Cathy marry the sickly young man in order to get all of Edgar’s wealth and properties. The most horrendous thing any parent could do to their child is leave them alone and unattended when they are vastly ill. Heathcliff did this to Linton. He barely paid any attention to him so Linton did not get the medical needed to help preserve his life. Consequently, he died from the terrible disease he had, and it was all Heathcliff’s fault. Whether this case is searched through and through and turned inside out, no matter how you look at it, Heathcliff was pure evil to his only son.

Brontë’s Wuthering Heights was theoretically divided into two parts. The first half of the novel illustrated Heathcliff’s impulse for revenge. It was obvious that he presented many signs as a victim in this first section. The second half showed how Heathcliff worked to get his revenge from the tyrants who demoralized his life. Here, Heathcliff was portrayed as a villain because of all the cruelties he committed. Heathcliff had two passions: the passion for Catherine and his passion for revenge. His passion for revenge was an all consuming passion that had to be done. He felt the need to get back at both Hindley and Edgar and their offspring, because Heathcliff saw them as having ruined his life. Heathcliff lived a life that was unfortunately, tormented by people who either envied him or disliked him because he had a different appearance from the traditional innocent, pure little English boy raised in the moors. The only way he let out all his resentment and frustration was through the suffering of others. When Heathcliff finally died in his bedroom, he found peace with himself and with the soul of his beloved Catherine in a peaceful world that was beyond the knowledge of the live human being.

Works Cited

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York NY: Bantam, 1974. Print.

Cross, Wilbur L. The Development of the English Novel. New York: Macmillan, 1927. 169. Print.

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