Who is Heathcliff in Emily Bronte's "ÃÂWuthering Heights', and what is his role within the story's context? Like Arnold Kettle's critical interpretation, I believe that Heathcliff is destined to become a troubled and angry man. Kettle implies that Heathcliff concocted his entire revenge; that Heathcliff used the elite social classes, that he was obviously not a part of, to basically get back at the Lintons and eventually destroy them. Unlike Kettle's interpretation, I don't believe that it was a moral act on Heathcliff's part. He was aware of the social classes, but two main issues are what drove him to do the things that he did. First he has lost control of his life due in large part to the abusive treatment he received as a child and second, because of his intense love for Catherine.
He constantly transfers his intense anger and frustration upon all who enter his life.
Heathcliff comes to represent the underdog of life's disappointments, forever struggling with issues of control. The "dirty, ragged, black-haired child" (page 35) from Liverpool who finds his way back to Wuthering Heights under the protective arm of Mr. Earnshaw is so obviously out of place socially, culturally and in appearance that he is soon looked upon as a splinter in this family. Indications of light and dark serve to separate Heathcliff even further in both a biological and racial manner. One has to wonder why Mr. Earnshaw ever brings the boy home in the first place. As Nelly observes, ""ÃÂ¦Big enough to walk and talk"ÃÂ¦ yet, when it was set on its feet, it only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand." (page 35) He obviously represents the character of an opposing social status.
The racially marked Heathcliff, who was the abandoned child, brings with him an unexpected aspect that the other Earnshaws find chilling. One aspect in particular is a phychological similarity feature between Catherine and Heathcliff. Within only a few days as Nelly reports, "Miss Cathy and he were now very thick." (page 36) This realization that his daughter has anything at all in common with such a socially and racially unsuitable commoner strikes Mr. Earnshaw as unpleasant. This only serves to add to the harsh treatment Heathcliff endures.
The distinct separation between the concept of dark and light encourages the reader to place Heathcliff on one side and the Earnshaws on the other, with a very obvious line between them. Heathcliff's skin color represents his severed heritage and does not reflect the self-proclaimed superiority of the Earnshaw's light tone.
As Heathcliff's bastard upbringing and subsequent bad treatment at Wuthering Heights come to define his existence, it is not difficult to understand why he becomes a long-suffering victim of a life he cannot control. He cannot move beyond the social class issues, as Kettle pointed out, that separate him from Catherine. To examine when this started, we need to go deeper into Heathcliff's mind. His life-sentence of melancholy develops when he is taken in by Catherine's family; as a poorly cultured boy. He is never allowed to forget this point as it is forever displayed upon both his body and his mind. Hindley reminds him when he says, "Take my colt, gipsy, then!"ÃÂ¦ And I pray that he may break your neck; take him, and be damned, you beggarly interloper! and wheedle my father out of all he has- only, afterwards, show him what you are, imp of Satan- And take that, I hope he'll kick out your brains!" ( page 38) The only comfort Heathcliff ever finds in his life is the time he shares with Catherine. Yet even she ends up casting him out once she realizes that she is more smitten with a life of luxury than she is with admitting her undying love for Heathcliff, the man she ultimately claims to be a part of her spiritual existence. The point is made by Catherine was she says, "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff." Heathcliff had controlling tendencies, demonstrated here through his son Linton. ""ÃÂ¦So we are to be married in the morning, and you are to stay here all night; and, if you do as he wishes, you shall return home next day, and take me with you." (page 272) Catherine also has her controlling ways. This mutual characteristic develops a devotion to each other that is so fierce that their actions brought both physical and emotional pain to those around them, an aspect of their relationship that they could not escape. This is an aspect that Kettle does not take into account.
"I cannot express it, but surely you and every body have notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If I all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it. 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 on my mind- not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself- but, as my own being- so, don't talk of our separation again- it is impracticable" (page 82) If we look past the question of who is Heathcliff, we can understand the self-inflicted abuse as he attempts to regain control of his own life. Never able to quite comfortable in his own skin, Heathcliff always wanted more, more respect, more understanding and certainly more of Catherine. With a couple of exceptions, his desires are always met with disappointment. As he completely loses himself in Catherine, the theme of control clearly relates his desire to break free from the constant emotional hold he has experienced all his life. Heathcliff is never quite able to see himself as anything other than a lowly social outcast in the middle of an elite class.
Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship is hot and passionate from the very start. It clearly indicates his quest for freedom, both personal and spiritual, that was taken away from him throughout the early years. It is evident that he is betraying himself while he is on the edge of two very different worlds. Their relationship is also one of possessiveness and extreme disappointment. The reality of the situation provokes them to act in hurtful and abusive ways as a way to cope with their overwhelming frustration. Proof of this comes when Heathcliff mentions the killing of Edgar. "By Hell, no! I'll crush his ribs in like a rotten hazel-nut, before I cross the threshold! If I don't floor him now, I shall murder him some time, so, as you value his existence, let me get at him!" (page 116) Unfortunately, the end was not kind to Catherine and Heathcliff. After Catherine came to terms with her status and found the taste of high society to her liking, she suggests Heathcliff to seek for the same, in terms of refinement, so that they could be seen together. "It was only that you looked odd- If you wash your face and brush your hair, it will be all right. But you are so dirty!" (page 53) When he refused to clean up, she emotionally abused him by talking about him behind his back, with him hearing every word. He left in a rage; she married another man and when he returned, he also married someone else, in order to further aggravate the cycle of control. Time passed and neither one was happy in their respective relationships. Somehow, their love never died for each other, but it also was never fully appreciated.
When Catherine took ill and was on her deathbed, they both claimed their undying love for each other and reminisced while looking out upon the moors. Indeed, this ending serves to bring back the thematic importance of Heathcliff's abusive life. He was now about to experience the final and overwhelming sense of abandonment by way of Catherine's death. Such a profound love deserves better than what both were able to give to it. The cycle of abusive control that was present throughout his unhappy life existed as a reminder of how he was never quite able to attain the one thing he truly wanted in his life. " 'Oh, Cathy! Oh, my life! How can I bear it?' was the first sentence he uttered, in a tone hat did not seek to disguise his despair. And now he stared at her se earnestly that I thought the very intensity of his gaze would bring tears into his eyes; but they burned with anguish, they did not melt." (page 158) The differences between the social classes are definitely an important aspect of this novel. But denying the importance of the love Heathcliff had for Catherine and Heathcliff's upbringing, is something that Kettel should not have overlooked.