Wuthering Heights

by: Emily Brontë

Heathcliff

But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman . . . I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling . . . He’ll love and hate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again.

Mr. Lockwood describes to the reader the contrast between Heathcliff’s background as an orphaned gypsy and his current status as a gentleman. He derives his self-important opinions from stereotypes: the mysterious gypsy who lives like a gentleman. Mr. Lockwood predicts Heathcliff will maintain his reserve and abstain from showing his feelings. The reader recognizes the dramatic irony in this appraisal, given Heathcliff’s tumultuous emotions and vengeful actions.

‘Rough as a saw-edge, and hard as whinstone! The less you meddle with him the better.’ . . . ‘He must have had some ups and downs in life to make him such a churl. Do you know anything of his history?’ . . . ‘It’s a cuckoo’s sir[.’]

Mr. Lockwood and Nelly converse about Heathcliff after Mr. Lockwood shares his first impressions of Heathcliff. Nelly warned him to avoid Heathcliff. Mr. Lockwood questions what has made Heathcliff a hard person, revealing his curiosity and insight into human behavior. Nelly’s introduction that Heathcliff’s history is “a cuckoo’s” foreshadows the harrowing and tragic story she will tell.

‘When would you catch me wishing to have what Catherine wanted? . . . I’d not exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange—not if I might have the privilege of flinging Joseph off the highest gable, and painting the house-front with Hindley’s blood!’.

Nelly recounts a dialogue she had with Heathcliff on the night that Heathcliff and Catherine first met the Linton children. As Heathcliff explains to Nelly why Catherine was left behind at Thrushcross Grange, he strongly expresses his distaste for the Lintons’ lifestyle and manner. Heathcliff’s statement reveals not only his strong personality, but his vengeful anger at the mistreatment he has faced because of his social class.

I was amazed, more than ever, to behold the transformation of Heathcliff. He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man; beside whom my master seemed quite slender and youth-like…His countenance was much older in expression and decision of feature than Mr. Linton’s; it looked intelligent, and retained no marks of former degradation. A half-civilised ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued; and his manner was even dignified: quite divested of roughness, though too stern for grace!

Nelly gives a description of Heathcliff upon his return and visit to Thrushcross Grange. She analyzes his transformation in appearance and demeanor and makes contrasts with Edgar Linton, setting the two men in competition once again. While Nelly describes Heathcliff as strong, intelligent, and subdued, she also explains how his aggressiveness seems hidden, waiting to come out. This description reveals Heathcliff as changed but not rid of his darkness or anger.

‘Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone . . . Pray, don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond---a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic: he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man . . . and he’d crush you like a sparrow’s egg.’

Catherine speaks to Isabella Linton about Heathcliff’s real character after Isabella declares an interest in Heathcliff. Even though Catherine has a passionate love for Heathcliff, she clearly warns Isabella of Heathcliff’s dark and harsh character. While some of this description may simply come from a jealous nature, Catherine’s perceptions prove true to Heathcliff’s intentions and character.

‘Where is she? Not there—not in heaven . . . you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!’

Heathcliff responds to news of Catherine’s death. As Nelly witnesses his reaction, the readers see his passionate and desperate love for Catherine. However, his wish that her soul would not rest shows the selfish side of his love: He prays that she would haunt him so he would not lose her. These declarations reveal Heathcliff’s dark and selfish motives within his desperate adoration of Catherine.

He maintained a hard, careless deportment, indicative of neither joy nor sorrow: if anything, it expressed a flinty gratification at a piece of difficult work successfully executed . . . He had the hypocrisy to represent a mourner: and previous to following with Hareton, he lifted the unfortunate child on to the table and muttered, with peculiar gusto, ‘Now, my bonny lad, you are mine! And we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it!’

Nelly describes Heathcliff’s cold and calculated reaction to Hindley Earnshaw’s death. Given Heathcliff’s history of mistreatment at Hindley’s hands, Heathcliff’s anger has deep roots. Hindley’s death completes Heathcliff’s machinations to own Wuthering Heights, which seems to energize Heathcliff. He chillingly announces his plan to raise Hareton in the same environment that “twisted” him. The menace in his jocularity displays him as a cold and vengeful character.

‘No, it was not because I disliked Mr. Heathcliff, but because Mr. Heathcliff dislikes me; and is a most diabolical man, delighting to wrong and ruin those he hates, if they give him the slightest opportunity . . . so for your own good, and nothing else, I took precautions[.]’

Edgar Linton explains to young Catherine why he has tried to protect her from Heathcliff. Edgar describes Heathcliff’s evil character, malice towards him in particular, and inclination to hurt those he hates. Like the devil that Edgar compares Heathcliff to, each generation discovers his truly hateful soul. Edgar’s fears move him to action in protecting young Catherine from Heathcliff. Despite Edgar’s best efforts, Heathcliff has found a way to cross paths with young Catherine.

He made no ceremony of knocking or announcing his name: he was master, and availed himself of the master’s privilege to walk straight in, without saying a word . . . It was the same room into which he had been ushered as a guest, eighteen years before . . . There was the same man: his dark face sallower and more composed, his frame a stone or two heavier, perhaps, but no other difference.

Here, Nelly Dean describes how Heathcliff enters Thrushcross Grange after Edgar Linton’s death. She explains how Heathcliff enters as a master, in contrast to his social status when he first came to Thrushcross Grange. Despite Heathcliff’s calmer expression and an appearance of illness, Nelly recognizes he carries himself the same way as he did eighteen years before—like someone who deserves his place as master.

‘It is not my fault that I cannot eat or rest . . . I’ll do both, as soon as I possibly can. But you might as well bid a man struggling in the water rest within arms’ length of the shore! I must reach it first, and then I’ll rest . . . I’ve done no injustice, and I repent nothing. I’m too happy; and yet I’m not happy enough. My soul’s bliss kills my body, but does not satisfy itself.’

In these final words before his death, Heathcliff talks to Nelly about his current physical and mental state. He explains that he cannot rest because he struggles to feel fully satisfied despite succeeding in his revenge. He also verifies that he does not believe he did anything wrong and does not apologize even though he realizes that his heart’s desires have destroyed him.