The word hero conjures an image in one’s head of a valiant, courageous, strong individual; one who puts the needs of others before their own, a being who defies evil with their handsome charm and fearless nature. However, this stereotypical image does not accurately depict the full extent to which the term hero covers, as there are many different types of hero including the Byronic Hero, Classic Hero, Medieval Hero, and Romantic Hero.
Classic Heroes are those in Greek and Roman literature; they are often of royal birth or even like the Titan Prometheus; half mortal, half god.
Although Edgar Linton is not of royal descent, he is from a family of the highest social class throughout the country which allows him to fall loosely into this category of noble birth. Heathcliff on the other hand, is from a discernible background and is brought into the household at Wuthering Heights as a ‘gipsy brat’ after Mr. Earnshaw saw, ‘it starving, and houseless, and as good as dumb in the streets of Liverpool.
Another characteristic of a Classic Hero is that they perform extraordinary feats. Throughout the novel Edgar Linton displays no obvious signs of having done anything extraordinary; he is a calm, weak natured individual who avoids conflict and allows himself to be easily overpowered both by Heathcliff and his wife allowing the latter to mock him, ‘I wish Heathcliff may flog you sick, for daring to think an evil thought of me!’ In contrast to this, Heathcliff performs many extraordinary deeds however, few of which are in any way admirable and for the benefit of anyone but himself for example, after being degraded for years at the abusive hands of Hindley, Heathcliff disappeared for three years and that space of time turned himself into an outwardly respectable and wealthy man.
In addition to the former points, a classical hero must be a perfectly ideal individual but for one fatal flaw. One’s opinion of Edgar Linton can be altered to allow him to fit into this category as he is a well-mannered character who is obviously fully devoted to both his wife and his daughter; Nelly Dean observes, ‘I don’t believe he ever did speak a harsh word to her.’ However, his gentle, spoiled upbringing may be his flaw as it has made him subservient character that lacks the confidence and passion Heathcliff possesses and thus lacks the ability to keep hold of Catherine and make her happy. Heathcliff again, does not fit the mould of the Classic Hero as he fails to meet this criterion; he is an abusive, evil, sadistic individual who shows no hint of remorse or of possessing any admirable qualities. Although neither Edgar nor Heathcliff perfectly fit the mould of a Classic hero, Edgar has more right to be called a Classic Hero than Heathcliff does.
However, Heathcliff does fully reserve the right to be classed as the Byronic Hero within the novel as he possesses all the characteristics of one of these heroes while Edgar has none of them. These heroes are manipulative, violent and unrepentant. Heathcliff shows his manipulative nature when he allows Isabella Linton to fall in love with him, he tells Nelly, ‘she abandoned them under a delusion’, showing he was fully aware of her feelings and used them to his advantage, employing them as a tool in which he could gain control and ownership over both properties; Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
His displays of violence are prominent throughout the novel, beginning as a young boy and developing into adulthood. As a young child he, ‘seized a tureen of apple sauce’ and threw it over Edgar Linton’s face. As an adult his violence worsens as, ‘he snatched a knife from the table and flung it at’ his wife, Isabella’s head. In addition to this, he comes close to murdering Hindley and even with Catherine, his true love he does not possess the capability to be gentle, ‘so inadequate was his stock of gentleness… I saw four distinct impressions left blue in her colourless skin.’
Heathcliff’s unrepentant nature is evident via the lack of regard he holds toward his victims which stems from his arrogant personality. The height of his arrogance is seen when he tells Catherine in front of Edgar, ‘This lamb of yours threatens like a bull!… It is in danger of splitting its skull against my knuckles. By God, Mr. Linton, I’m’ mortally sorry that you are not worth knocking down.’ Arrogance is also a common trait of Byronic Heroes.
Despite the fact that both men can be called heroes in their own right to a certain extent, it is because of his amiability and good nature Edgar Linton has the right to claim the title of the respectable hero within the novel. However, in saying this looking at all the characters within the novel, it may be argued that neither man deserve the title but a woman does as the women in the novel are strong, independent and highly feministic characters.