Heatcliff is an unusual center character, in that he can said to be both the hero and the villain of Wuthering Heights. Explain this statement fully.
In the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, the heroic and villainous qualities play a significant role in understanding the character Heatcliff. Heatcliff’s passion, his mysterious origins and his contrast between hatred and love helps the reader understand the character Heatcliff. As a hero he displayed his true and endless love for Catherine. But the personality that Heatcliff develops as an adult of super-human villain due to the deprivation of love, education and social statues that he received in his childhood days. Heatcliff’s double character makes Wuthering Heights a strong tale of love and hatred.
One side of Heatcliff is his heroic character. His eternal faithfulness and endless love for Catherine is not doubtful. Catherine feels that “it would degrade her to marry Heatcliff” because of his low social status in society and decides to marry the son of the aristocratic Lintons, Edgar. She is excited by the high standards of living of Lintons and for sure enjoys such an atmosphere. In the spite of her rejection to Heatcliff, his undaunted love remains for her forever in his heart. Heatcliff suffers much emotional rejection. He displays his heroic character by not taking revenge from Edgar immediately because of his genuine concerns for Catherine. The extent of Heatcliff’s dedication and sense of desolation can be considered as form of heroism displayed by Heathcliff.
The other side of Heatcliff is his role as a villain. His purpose of turning into a villain from a good character is to seek revenge from all those who troubled him from his childhood days. It is seen that Heathcliff suffered terrible torture at the hands of Hindley after Mr. Earnshaw’s death. Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff was “enough to make a fiend of a saint.” Hindley deprived him of an education and reduced his status to that of a servant. This horrible treatment of Hindley arouses deep and abiding hatred in the heart of Hindley and all-consuming passion for revenge. He fulfills his desire of revenge by encouraging Hindley to drink excessively, gamble and he also makes Hindley bankrupt by taking all his wealth including Wuthering Heights that he owned. As Heathcliff seeks his revenge, he becomes devilish and is constantly associated with devilish feelings, images and actions.
His revenge is also directed toward Edgar Linton, the son of aristocratic Lintons’s, whom he sees as having stolen Catherine from him. To seek his revenge he devises series of schemes to wrest the ownership of the Grange from the Lintons family and secure it for himself. He knew that Isabella considered him or pictured him a “hero of romance”and takes advantage of it by putting on a mask of love which Isabella tends to believe. His cruel treatment to Isabella is a source of enjoyment for him. He also capitalizes on poor Lintons’s health by inviting the pity of Cathy so that her affection and sympathy would facilitate a marriage between them and leave him as the master of the Grange.
At one point we see that Heatcliff regrets that he saved the infant Hareton. He indeed takes pleasure in the fact that Hareton was born with a sensitive nature which he has corrupted and degraded. Heathcliff ‘s pleasure at this corruption is increased by the fact that: “Hareton is damnably fond of me, his attitude is devoid of fatherly feeling.” We can thus prove that Heathcliff is a many-faced character. In his early years he is characterized by his faithfulness and endless love for Catherine. The adult Heathcliff who returns to Wuthering Heights after a three-year absence is a super human villain distort by revenge, distorted by sense of wrongs done to him and made emotionally unstable by Catherine’s marriage. It can be thus said that Heathcliff is an unusual character. But personally I felt that he can be characterized as a villain than a hero.