Heathcliff: A Victim of Villainy
In “Wuthering Heights,” we see tragedies follow one by one, most of which are focused around Heathcliff, the antihero of the novel. After the troubled childhood Heathcliff goes through, he becomes embittered towards the world and loses interest in everything but Catherine Earnshaw -his childhood sweetheart whom he had instantly fallen in love with.and revenge upon anyone who had tried to keep them apart.
The novel begins with a few short introduction chapters which Bronte had most likely used to illustrate how incompetent the character of Lockwood was, and to foreshadow what was to come in later chapters. After these, it begins to immediately demonstrate to the reader the plight of Heathcliff’s childhood and how hard a time he had had of it. The very first time that Heathcliff is mentioned, he is described as “A dirty, ragged, black-haired child, big enough both to walk and talk” Wuthering Heights, Chapter 4 and is referred to as “It.” Mr. Earnshaw claimed to have found him starving, homeless, and abandoned on his trip to Liverpool. This sounds incredulous to say the least, considering that Mr. Earnshaw had made the trip on several other occasions without bringing back any surprises’, and that the cities of London at the time were practically crawling with Orphans. While it never outright states so within the novel, it appears as if Heathcliff is in fact Mr. Earnshaw’s illegitimate child. If this was the case, it would also provide an explanation why Catherine and Heathcliff did not express their mutual passion for another in a physical waywhile at the time marrying your cousin was an accepted practice, relationships with a half-sibling were highly frowned upon.
As Heathcliff aged, his love for Catherinefirst shown on the night of Mr. Earnshaws death when only the two of them can comfort each otherblossomed and bloomed not into the rose which would have been expected from such a strong, passionate love, but into the twisted thorn bush of Heathcliff’s dark revenge. After Mr. Earnshaws death Catherine’s elder brother, Hindley, became the new proprietor of Wuthering Heights. Under Hindley’s guiding hand, Heathcliff was sent out into the fields with the servants and was no longer aloud to be educated along with Catherine. This was the first time that the two of them were separated, and it later led to Heathcliff’s wreaking his revenge upon Hindley by first driving him to drink, taking his land with gambling debts, and corrupting his son Hareton in the same way that Hindley had done to Heathcliff, but to an exaggerated degree. The next “victim” of Heathcliff’s revenge was Edgar Linton.
Once Heathcliff began working in the field, Hindley saw to it that his sister would never lower herself and take an orphan gypsy boy as a husband. He does this by seeing to it that Catherine spends as much time with Edgar and Isabella Linton as possible. With them, she becomes even more spoiled then she had been and escalated from prissy’ to being an all out brat. She soon after decides to marry Edgar instead of staying with Heathcliff when she realizes that Heathcliff could not provide the finer things in life she had become accustomed to.
Instead of blaming his beloved Catherine who could not truly do wrong in his mind, Heathcliff lays the blame of their union solely upon Edgar, and as a result leads him to punish Edgar nearly as painfully as he had Hindley. Catherine herself had been so selfish that she believed that she could marry Edgar for his money without giving up her close relationship with Heathcliffthat she could effectively have her cake and eat it too.
To conclude, while Heathcliffs actions were obviously caused by the way Hindley and Edgar had abused and degraded him, Catherine herself seems to have merited his wrath more then any other character in the book, but received none of it because he unconditionally loved her. The same could not be said about Catherine herself. In Chapter 9, Catherine mentions how her love toward Heathcliff and that with Edgar was could not be so less alike:
“He Heathcliff is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees-my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath-a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff-he’s always, always in my mind-not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself-but, as my own being.”
Even though she claimed to love Heathcliff so totally and unquestionably, the fact remains that she did marry another man and birth his child. I believe that had Catherine not betrayed him so absolutely, Heathcliff could have forgave his tormentors and lived a happy life with the love of his life, without anyone else having to suffer. Heathcliff is not a villain, but he is not exactly a victim either. Like most aspects of the novel, Heathcliff’s character is not just black or white. He is both a victim of the villainy he experienced as a child, as well as a villain to his own victims. It is all a matter of whose point of view the story is viewed by.