The complex and furious creation of Emily BrontÃÂ«, Wuthering Heights is a powerful novel that fiercely combines many of the greatest themes in literature, such as love and its intricacies, revenge and the its terrible effects, and the contrasts between nature and society. One of the most prevalent themes in this celebrated work is that of crime and punishment, or sin and retribution. One character in particular, Heathcliff, stands apart as a conduit for both of these, es-pecially his sins. His past crimes, both worldly and metaphysical, coincide with his punishments.
Heathcliff, to some, began life as a crime. His foster brother Hindley shunned him as a reject from society while viewing Heathcliff's very existence a grievous crime, particularly because Mr. Earnshaw's love and affection were displaced towards Heathcliff instead of himself. Far later in the novel, this terrible attitude backfires upon Hindley, who is misused and cheated out of ownership of Wuthering Heights by Heathcliff. This crime parallels another: Heathcliff's abhorrent abuse of both Hindley in his weakened state and Hindley's son Hareton, who is made the stablehand instead of the rightful owner of the Heights. Heathcliff also trespassed when he imprisoned Catherine upon her visits to his son Linton. He coerced her into marrying Linton while her own father was dying, and so gained ownership of Thrushcross Grange as well as the Heights.
These corporeal sins are not without their spiritual counterparts. One of the most prevalent crimes committed in the novel is not by Heathcliff, but against him. Partly influenced by her stay at the Linton's, Cathy (Earnshaw) sees Heathcliff as lower than herself, and that "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him." This harsh rebuke according to social structure distorts Heathcliff's very temperament into a nature even more twisted than it previously had been, and upon Cathy's marriage to Edgar, Heathcliff finds a target towards which he can divert his unyielding rage.
Sympathy should almost be expressed for Heathcliff, since he undergoes a punishment so severe and yet so directly undeserving: spiritual torment. Due to the loss of Cathy to Edgar by a standard over which he had no control, Heathcliff bears a weight on his shoulders for the rest of his life, being forced to endure his life without his true companion. This terrible affliction even drives him to disturb the resting-places of the dead, wherein he makes every attempt to place himself between Cathy and Edgar.
It could be supposed that Heathcliff dies a wretched soul, convicted of his crimes and having carried out his sentences. There is a glimmer of hope in his character, however, in light of his final temperament. In the end, the love of Catherine and Hareton - the reconciliation of the families - serves as this flicker of redemption: Heathcliff, instead of conquering by hate, has been ultimately defeated by love.