March 20, 1996 Study of Literature Heathcliff: Understanding Man s Duality In Emily Bronte s novel, Wuthering Heights, the simple question, Who and what is Heathcliff? lingers in the reader s mind throughout the story due to its complex answers. There are two opposing interpretations of Heathcliff that stem and then branch from a single root. One branch concerns Bronte s unique method of narration which involves the narrator within a narrator technique. Though there is one outside narrator, Bronte offers an inside perspective through several different narrational devices such as Nelly Dean s story-telling and Isabella s letter. The second involves objective reasoning that the reader may use to draw his/her own conclusions at the completion of the novel.
And only through the understanding and juxtaposition of both branches does the reader realize that Heathcliff s duality causes him to be both the hero and the anti-hero, and both the protagonist and the antagonist. Devil is a recurring word that the novel s characters constantly used to describe Heathcliff. However, when Nelly first begins to tell the history of the family to Mr Lockwood in Chapter 4, she recalls the childhood memory of Heathcliff with fondness and sympathy towards his being ill-treated by Hindley. Nelly is more than a resourceful testament to the fact that little Heathcliff never hurt anyone in the first place and that he was misfortunate to fall victim to Hindley s persecution of the poor, fatherless child (p. 79). The reader, along with Mr Lockwood also learns of the innocent love that developed between Heathcliff and his beloved Catherine.
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And with age, their love steps to a higher emotional intensity that binds them to an unrestrained sense of freedom, which ironically traps them in inner turmoil. Heathcliff s theme of revenge and his extensive desire to carry it out is justified not only by the brutal and insensitive Hindley, but also by the constant reinforcement of the idea that he was not worthy of love, then, by the marriage of his beloved Catherine to another man, and finally by her death. All these factors bring him to create his own self-consuming hell in which he is the devil as well as the captive sinner of Wuthering Heights, his hellish realm. Isabella s letter and Nelly s latter feelings for the grown Heathcliff only remind the reader of the diabolical, and devilish man whose unapproachableness rendered him incapable of human compassion.
However, the reader must not forget all the true tender moments Heathcliff reveals with Catherine and the passionate way he describes his future without Catherine as death and hell (p.186). Unfortunately, for the characters as well as the reader it is easier to look at the worst sides of people than the good, so it is important to consider the underlying causes that have shaped Heathcliff. The reader may also assume that the author remembers Heathcliff s mistreatment and as a sort of compassion allows Heathcliff an attempt to fulfil his vow for revenge by having him ironically outlive most of his generation as well as his own son. As to the characters that encounter Heathcliff, they seem most anxious to escape his torment. And death is an alleviation of pain and anguish for characters like Catherine, who died wearing the expression of a smile (p. 201), and even Linton, who anticipates his inevitable death to be a peace of mind.
This is all because of the way Heathcliff despicably aroused hatred and tension in those he forced around him, causing them to deliberately hate him as well as each other. Therefore, the answer to why Heathcliff deliberately cast misery upon Wuthering Heights is a compound one. In the final days of Heathcliff s life a noticeable change occurs to which Nelly calls to attention in the way he appears to be uncommonly animated (p. 358) and her bewilderment to his statement, I m too happy, and yet not happy enough about the anticipation of his own death (p. 362). When Heathcliff becomes aware of his coming death, he is able to release the monsters in his heart that torment him because he knows that he will be reunited with Catherine once more thus, finally freeing himself and those left around him to assume normal lives.
Heathcliff did not fail in his quest to repeat history but only to a certain extent. His death let the lives of young Catherine and Hareton start anew and fully begin to live out their own lives. Yet, during his life, his lack of love for the living and the tumultuous torture he exerted in his self-made hell does make Heathcliff appear less than a man and more of a heartless beast. Thus, at the conclusion of the novel, the reader learns of the greater meaning of Bronte s depiction of love – Heathcliff struggled with a passion for Catherine that failed to cease at her loss and instead turned into something ugly and painful for the people of his household as well as himself. This enforces Heathcliff s duality of character so that he is both the hero and the anti-hero, the protagonist as well as the antagonist of Wuthering Heights.