Wuthering Heights: Sympathy With The Villain

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Heathcliff, the main character in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, has no heart. He is evil to the core - so savage that his lone purpose is to ruin others. Yet at the very moment at which the reader would be expected to feel the most antipathy towards the brute -after he has destroyed his wife, after he has degraded the life of a potentially great man, and after he has watched the death of his son occur with no care nor concern, the reader finds himself feeling strangely sympathetic towards this character. The answer to this oddity lies in the presentation of the character himself, which causes us to be more pitying of him than we otherwise might.

Bronte’s describes the young boy, Heathcliff, as”dark, almost as if he came from the devil,” immediately spurring the reader to view the character as evil and immoral. His actions from thence forward largely tend to enhance this notion. From the very get go he hates Hindley, and although the feeling is mutual, Heathcliff certainly does his just portion of cruel deeds. In one incident Mr Earnshaw has given both Hindley and Heathcliff a colt. When Heathcliff’s colt goes lame, he threatens to blackmail Hindley if he does not trade with him. At a young age, he begins to plot revenge against Hindley. “I’m trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back,” he says, “I don’t care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!” And in his adult years, we find him teaching Hindley’s son Hareton to swear desiring that the boy become just as foul as he. As the novel continues, Heathcliff develops another aversion. This time, to the man that married his lover, Edgar Linton. In one particular scene Edgar, Catherine, and Heathcliff are all involved in a passionate dispute. “I wish you the joy of a milk-blooded coward,” he says, “....I compliment you on your taste. And that is the slavering, shivering thing you preferred me too. I would not strike him with my fist, but I’d kick him with my foot and experience considerable satisfaction.” After the completion of this speech, Heathcliff proceeds to just as he had discussed. Later, to gain power of Edgar, Heathcliff elopes with Edgar’s sister, Isabella. Their marriage proves to be far from delightful, for Heathcliff has no love for Isabella. “Is Mr Heathcliff a man?” Isabella writes, “If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?” Heathcliff’s com...

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...ovel draws to a close, Heathcliff realizes the futility of his life, as it has been spent on that one task. “I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses (referring to Edgar’s and Hindley’s) and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready and in my power, I find the will to life a slate off either roof has vanished!...I could do it; and none would hinder me. But where is the use?...I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing.” Upon realizing this, Heathcliff wills himself to die.

Thus, despite Heathcliff’s immoral behavior and throughly evil actions, the book closes leaving the reader with a pitying disposition on the character’s behalf. After never being taught to love, being abused, losing ones love, and living for one thing only to later discover it’s futilty, one might ponder that Heathcliff couldn’t help but be how was. The circumstances were almost beyond his control. The passionate, violent environment of Wuthering Heights shaped him into the fiend that he was. And to read of that hellish existence is enough to impart a sympathetic sigh from even the most critical of readers.
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