In Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights, the major character Heathcliff is difficult to understand. He goes from being an innocent victim to a self-centred, spiteful individual. He is determined to get revenge on many of the characters, which causes his characteristics, both good and bad, to show. Heathcliff is presented as an embodiment of dark powers. Most characters describe him as being evil or representing the devil. Edgar Linton describes him as a “most diabolical” man. His own son shrinks from him, and Heathcliff exclaims, “You would imagine I was the devil himself – to excite such horror.” (153). Still, Isabella Linton is the character that leaves the reader with the strongest impression that Heathcliff is devil-like.
She writes a letter to Nelly telling of her living conditions and the horrible way Heathcliff treats her. She says, “Is Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? If he is not, is he a devil?” (100). She also considers him to be “a monster and not a human being.” Heathcliff declares that since he cannot punish Edgar for causing Catherine’s illness, he will punish Isabella in his place. Heathcliff’s abuse of Isabella is purely sadistic. It is amusing to him seeing how she can take his abuse and still come back for more. In these ways, he is very much like the devil. Naturally, the treatment he receives at Wuthering Heights has an affect on him. Tortured by his love for Catherine, how she betrayed him, and his hatred of Hindley and Edgar for making him seem so unworthy for her, Heathcliff creates an elaborate plan for revenge. The rest of the novel focuses on this plan.
Although he marries Isabella, he never loves her; he just wants to get back at Catherine and the Lintons. Before they elope, Catherine confronts Heathcliff about his feelings towards Isabella. Heathcliff Replies: Catherine, I have a mind to speak a few words now, while we are at it – I want you to be aware that I know you have treated me infernally – infernally! Do you hear? And if you flatter yourself that I don’t perceive it, you are a fool – and if you think sweet words can console me, you are an idiot – and if you fancy I’ll suffer unrevenged, I’ll convince you of the contrary, in a tiny while. (82) Even Linton, his own son, is terribly abused by Heathcliff. To get back at Edgar again, he manipulates the younger Cathy, takes her prisoner at Wuthering Heights, and forces her to marry Linton so that someday Heathcliff will be the owner of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
He takes advantage of Hindley, who has both a drinking and a gambling problem. Heathcliff takes over ownership of Wuthering Heights as collateral for Hindley’s gambling losses. He also mistreats Hareton, Hindley’s son, in the same way, he was mistreated. He teaches Hareton to curse and be disrespectful and will not let the curate that has offered to educate Hareton. Hareton tells Nelly, “I was told the curate should have his – teeth dashed down his – throat if he stepped over the threshold – Heathcliff had promised that.” (81). Revenge takes over Heathcliff, which causes him to be evil and like the devil. One redeeming feature in Heathcliff’s character is his love for Catherine, which is constant and deep. As children, the two of them are constant companions and defenders of one another. Catherine is the only thing that makes his life bearable after Mr Earnshaw dies and Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff becomes more brutal.
Heathcliff assumes they will always be together. However, Catherine decides that Heathcliff is not good enough for her to become her husband. She tells Nelly, ” It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff, now’ so he shall never know how I love him.” (59). She decides to marry Edgar, although she cannot tell Nelly why she loves him other than reasons such as he loves her and is pleasant to be around. She never really loves him as much as she loves Heathcliff. This changes him for the rest of his life, causing him to feel a great sense of betrayal and loss. Heathcliff’s desire to see and embrace Catherine’s corpse later on in the novel shows the depth of his passion for her. He openly states that he wants to die so he can be with Catherine. He says:
I have a single wish, and my whole being and faculties are yearning to attain it. They have yearned towards it so long and so unwaveringly that I’m convinced it will be reached – and soon – because it has devoured my existence – I am swallowed in anticipation of its fulfilment. (239) He wants to be buried with Catherine, and he even punches a hole in her casket and asks that the same be done to his so that their dust can unite in death. Heathcliff is a character that some may relate, and one that some may not. But, in my opinion, he is probably the most important character in the novel because the whole theme of revenge would not be there without him. He plays a vital role in all of the characters’ lives.