Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


Any feeling when it assumes a very strong form and makes a person act in a way which violates the norm of behaviour imposed on him by society, is called passion. Love, sorrow, and hatred are regarded as passionate when they transcend normal limits. Sometimes, such feelings are localized in persons and they suffer alone without drawing others into their vortex. Heathcliff is such a vicious character and in the pursuit of his ruthless vengeance born of a passionate hatred he tries to ruin two families, but his revenge can not reach beyond one generation. They are ultimately saved.

The influence of passion on Heathcliff is genuine. His motive of revenge, no doubt, is inspired by the cruel treatment he receives at the hands of Hindley, but it assumes a huge proportion and outruns all calculable limits. The greedy man ruins Hindley, gets possession of his house and lands and turns his son Hareton into a little savage animal.

This passionate hatred of Heathcliff also extends to Thrushcross Grange. Its owner Edgar Linton has taken away his Cathy from him.

The last scene of their meeting at Thrushcross Grange for only a few hours before Cathy’s death, is unforgettable and other than Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists there is nothing like it. They are united, body and soul, for the last time. Cathy realizes her mistake and Heathcliff has clasped her and she too clings to him tamely. All this is being enacted in the parlour of Cathy’s husband and can shoot him.

Catherine too is in a state of trance resting in the arms of her beloved, forgetting the torture of her soul and the agony of her burning heart.

It is the news of her death that maddens Heathcliff. He will love her even in death. He will meet her ghost and talk with it. Heathcliff’s passion now takes the form of a heartfelt longing to meet the ghost of his beloved.

It is the meeting with his lost beloved that makes his life endurable on the earth for eighteen years. He finds Cathy moving about the moors, hears her voice too in stormy nights knocking at the windows of Wuthering Heights praying to be admitted in. This image torments him for his long periods, yet it is her tantalizing presence – may be a shadowy presence or a hallucination created by his passionate imagination which starts to inhabit his mind more and more and drives away all other thoughts. It is the only thing that gives a meaning to his life. He forgets his revenge, he forgets to take his food, he forgets all earthly things.

The desire to live which is the strongest instinct of living beings is transformed into a desire for death – which is the only door through which he must pass to meet his beloved. And death comes as a welcome relief. It is the grand passion, which redeems the character of the Demon Lover as he has been called, raises him, purifies him and throws around him in the words of a critic “ a dusky splendour “.

The passionate love of Cathy for Heathcliff, on the other hand, has not the splendour of Heathcliff’s passion. She has chosen Edgar of her own accord and his wealth and social position have attracted her. She forgets Heathcliff and never thinks of him as long as he is away from Gimmerton.

Catherine’s passion for Heathcliff is adulterated and has not the pristine and elemental grandeur of Heathcliff’s passion for her. It may be said that Heathcliff too marries. But there is a world of difference between the marriage of Cathy and that of Heathcliff. Heathcliff’s marriage is a cold and loveless marriage. Heathcliff has not a grain of love for Isabella, who begins to hate her husband and considers him worse than a venomous serpent only a few days after her marriage.

                                                  IS THE CHARACTER OF HEATHCLIFF REALISTIC OR SYMBOLIC ?

The Brontes were well familiar with a ‘ stormy sisterhood ‘ and Heathcliff is an illustration of such intend passion. His entire life is ruled by two passions – love for Catherine and desire for revenge. Those two passions are carried to such an extreme and their intensity makes him a spiteful figure.

When Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff home, at first he says the boy is so dark almost it seemed as if he came from the devil. This is a superstitious idea which remains with Nelly so that she wonders at it at the end about the little black thing – where he came from and now to stay with a good man to bring his destruction. When Isabella writes to Nelly she asks if he was a devil and kindly calls him a ‘ fiend ‘ and a ‘ hellish villain ‘ and Catherine comparws him to Satan. It is not only that Catherine really understands his character but also she interprets it for Isabella.

Heathcliff has all the attributes of such a hero. The first impression he gives Lockwood is that he is magnetic, powerful, handsome and melancholic. The other unpalatable side of his character – his savagery, brutality and  dishonesty is also made clear and the two combines to creates his mysterious fascination.

Emily Bronte here is fully romantic, for she makes it clear that Heathcliff’s unorthodox devotion of consuming passion can have ugly and frightening results. Since his childhood he never forgot an injury and the systematic and materialistic way in. Which he goes about contriving his revenge on Hindley is frightening. He is intelligent and understands what has caused Isabella’s infatuation. She deserted him under a misapprehension, picturing in him a hero of romance and expecting unlimited indulgences from his chivalrous devotion.

Heathcliff is a romantic hero realistically presented. There is no glamour about his account of how he dug up Catherine’s coffin and certainly none about his treatment of Hindley and Linton Heathcliff which is squalid and disgusting. He speaks the truth when he says he has no pity, but the superhuman aspect of him is his love for Catherine which is total and unselfish even when he is a child. And is maintained into adulthood. In spite of his physical strength, she dominates him throughout the novel. We see that he is not at all sentimental, there is nothing sentimental about his wish to mingle his dust with Catherine because it is not an idle fantasy.

In short Heathcliff is a flamboyant, violent and sadist man.


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