Heathcliff is best seen as a child of the storm
A storm is often described as wild and unforgiving, a destructive force of nature that cannot be predicted and leaves chaos and disarray in its wake. Often times a storm is associated with tragedy and pain because of its destructiveness. All of these features are characteristic of Heathcliff’s own personality. He is a very complex character made up of numerous layers that each impact the reader’s perception of him, whether it is in a positive or negative manner.
When Heathcliff is introduced at Wuthering Heights, his appearance and manner are described to the reader by Nelly. Here, and in many occasions afterwards, Heathcliff is described to be a dark-skinned gipsy boy, giving the impression he is a wild, untamed creature. He is said to speak some gibberish that cannot be understood, showing either that he is uneducated or that he speaks a language that is foreign to the residents of Wuthering Heights. References to his affinity for nature and animals are made in the novel when he is tasked with taking care of the horses in the stables at Wuthering Heights. Further emphasis is placed on this aspect of his character when we learn that Heathcliff and Cathy spend a lot of time away from the grounds of the house and enjoy being out in the fields together.
Upon Heathcliff’s arrival at Wuthering Heights, it is clear that he brings trouble and his presence is rather ominous. On many occasions in the novel his presence also acts as an indication that something bad is about to happen. This further likens Heathcliff to a storm as a storm is also often a symbol of foreboding and trouble, both of which can be easily perceived in Heathcliff, even more so after his return to Wuthering Heights following his long absence, when his whereabouts were unknown to all members of the story.
His absence here adds to his character as this period of time is completely unexplored and it stays unknown how Heathcliff made his fortune or what trials he may have gone through. It is also unclear how he gains control of Wuthering Heights and what his relationship. His sudden power is unsettling to Nelly and the other characters. All of this adds to the mysteriousness of Heathcliff’s character and the uncertainty that the reader feels wherever Heathcliff is involved. Through Emily Bronte’s writing, the reader feels Heathcliff’s presence and is as intimidated by it as the characters in the story are. Very little is known about Heathcliff, but even so, the reader feels that they know him.
Another characteristic of a storm that can be seen in Heathcliff is his steadfastness and determination as shown by his will to exact revenge on Hindley after Mr Earnshaw’s death and Hindley’s poor treatment of Heathcliff. His need to love Cathy even after her ‘betrayal,’ as he puts it, when she marries Edgar Linton, further emphasises this particular characteristic of his. His unwillingness to change his ideas and opinions about people and the way they should be treated also accentuates this point, though he does change his treatment of Hareton towards the end of the novel.
Various shades of black, white and grey are associated with a storm and this compares to Heathcliff’s temperament as he too has various levels and layers in his personality as it is developed over time in the novel. At the beginning of the novel Heathcliff appears to be innocent and is welcomed, much like rain or showers. Later on, as his love for Cathy grows and both of them become more aware of social standing and status, his personality darkens and becomes less acceptable by the reader. After Cathy’s death, he loses control completely and embodies a harsh tropical storm. He becomes dangerous, unpredictable, rough and wild. His unpredictability can be prominently seen when he holds young Cathy and Nelly hostage to force young Cathy to marry Linton and give up her wealth when her father dies. After this, towards the end of the novel’s chronology, Heathcliff loses all will to hate and becomes a calmer character, though he is still harsh and unforgiving, much like the aftermath of a, particularly brutal storm.
Throughout the novel, Heathcliff is easily swayed by his emotions, much like a storm that is blown by the wind and has very primal instincts when it comes to his love, Cathy. She even goes as far as to say that he is “an unreclaimed creature, without refinement” when describing Heathcliff to Isabella in order to warn her of his temperament and instability.
In all of the aspects discussed, we can see that Heathcliff is very much like a storm as he blows through Wuthering Heights, completely disrupting the order that was once there during Mr Earnshaw’s time at the manor and turning the lives of all the inhabitants of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange upside down. His character is a pure manifestation of nature in its most destructive form.
The reader’s sentiments towards Heathcliff evolve with him. Personally, I liked Heathcliff at the beginning of the story and felt pity for him because of the way he was treated by other household members and the people of the town. I disliked the way Cathy treated him after she had stayed at Thrushcross Grange and felt he deserved better treatment. When he left, I felt the foreboding and when he came back, the description provided by Nelly confirmed whatever suspicions I had. Upon Heathcliff’s return, I immediately began to dislike his character as he had become more wealthy and with this more haughty.
He treated those around him much worse than he had before and was sent on exacting full vengeance on those that had mishandled and mistreated him before. Just before his death, I once again felt pity for him as it was clear to me that he had truly loved Cathy and that he missed her in his life once she had married Edgar Linton. Overall, I’m not sure whether I like Heathcliff or not as his character is too complex for me to be able to say. I liked his personality and actions in some parts of the text but greatly disliked him in others.
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