Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff –
Heathcliff is the main character in Emily Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights, and the whole plot revolves around this fascinating man from the time when he arrives at Wuthering Heights as a dark and dirty foundling and until he ends his days as a powerful landlord of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. This evolvement of the character and the fact that he is merely described by three narrators and never makes a clear statement of his own makes him one of the most fascinating characters in literature.
The very first time we meet Heathcliff in the novel is through his tenant’s narrative, where the character is established in the very first sentence of the novel. His tenant has just returned from a visit, and he describes him as a “solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with” and hints about him being a misanthropist. This is all fairly vague in comparison to the much stronger statement: “A capital fellow!” and the fact that the tenant’s heart warmed towards him, leaving us with the impression of a strong, but just man although we sense that there are some hidden menace lurking in the background.
This menace is also emphasized by the manner his dialogs and actions are described throughout the novel. Heathcliff does not speak – he growls. He does not smile – he grins, and even sneers on occasion. In the tenants narrative the uses of adjectives like “diabolical” certainly gives an extra flavour to the reader’s interpretation of the character. The effect of the choice of words is further enhanced by putting his dogs in the scene with him early in the novel, and thereby creating a link between the dogs and himself, and an image of him not being man-like. And indeed, dogs are just the thing for portraying a man like this, as dogs can be both dirty and pitiful, and strong, powerful sentinels or even predators at the same time – mirroring the general development of the character.
With this image firmly planted in the reader’s mind, the narrative changes to that of Mrs. Dean, the housewife of both Wuthering Heights and the Grange, who takes us back to when Heathcliff arrives at Wuthering Heights as a foundling. The diabolic image is further enhanced by remarks such as “…it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” and the fact that Mrs. Earnshaw “was ready to fling it outdoors” upon his arrival. Even the housekeeper is afraid of him, but when everybody calms down, the child is washed and tucked into bed along with Hindley and Catherine, the Earnshaw children. The diabolic image is later modified somewhat with the way Heathcliff responds to the ill-treatment from Hindley, as he would not cry or speak up when harassed. This, however, does not necessarily make him seem more human to the reader. It might just be that this contributes to the aura of unearthliness that follows him throughout the text.
Hindley’s ill-treatment of him is a key point both in the novel and in the development of the character of Heathcliff, and it is the trigger to everything that goes so wrong in the end. Heathcliff forms a special bond with Catherine, and they spend a lot of time playing together out on the moors. One night they decide to go spy on the Lintons, which results in Catherine spraining her ankle and getting an invitation to stay until it is healed. Heathcliff, on the other hand, does not receive this invitation and must return to Wuthering Heights alone.
The turning point of the novel is when Catherine finally comes home, and this is also when Heathcliff truly is contrasted for the first time. The Lintons are portrayed as fine, cultivated creatures, and what is worse; they seem to have tamed and made a lady out of Catherine. This makes a sharp contrast to the black haired and dirty Heathcliff who has kept in the background until Catherine calls him forth. She kisses him at first, and then she turns right around and laughs at