The first time we are introduced to Heathcliff is at the very start of chapter one. Our first image of Heathcliff is that he is animal like: “his black eyes withdrew so suspiciously under their brows…”
This is Mr Lockwood’s first impression of him and we see it through his eyes. However, as we find out, Lockwood is not a very good narrator, neither is he good at first impressions. Except, on this occasion, his impression of Heathcliff is fairly accurate.
Heathcliff is not only compared to animals in this way, but also to the house at Wuthering Heights. The house is described old and worn with deeply set windows, just like Heathcliff’s deeply set eyes. Also it becomes obvious later on that Heathcliff has had quite a tragic past just as the house has had with the stormy weather. “the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.”
I think that Emily Bronte purposely wrote the description of the house to match Heathcliff’s character.
This animal imagery is expressed even more, further on in chapter one: “my caress provoked a long guttural snarl”
Another image that is associated with Heathcliff is a violent and hostile one. Heathcliff is quite rude to the people he lives with and also he is almost physically violent to his servant Zillah in chapter three: “Heathcliff lifted his hand, and the speaker sprang to a safer distance, obviously acquainted with its weight.
So far, my first impression of Heathcliff is that he is very reclusive and quite savage, in an animalistic way.
Also that he was violent and very wayward about human relationships. This becomes more apparent in chapter two when we see how aggressive he is towards other. Lockwood is shocked when Heathcliff talks to a woman in his house in such a savage tone: ” ‘Get it ready will you? ‘ was the answer uttered so savagely that I started”
In the next few chapters we hear about Heathcliff’s childhood from diaries that Lockwood stumbles upon and reads. The diaries tell of a wet Sunday morning where Heathcliff and Catherine (Heathcliff’s was Catherine’s adopted brother) had to listen to a sermon, read by Joseph (their servant) in a cold attic, while Catherine’s brother and his wife got to enjoy themselves by the fire. When they protested, they got thrown into the kitchen. The diary explains later how Catherine and Heathcliff had been punished for escaping for a walk on the moors.
My impression of Heathcliff here is that he is slightly rebellious, but only because of Catherine. (We find out later in the book that Catherine brags to Hindley that she can get Heathcliff to do whatever she wants and Heathcliff only does what Hindley wants when it suits himself. This confirms my idea of Catherine being Heathcliff’s main influence in their early childhood) Later on in chapter three, Lockwood wakes up from a dream, screaming. Heathcliff “opens the door with a vigorous hand”.
Lockwood was asleep in Catherine’s room when he had a dream about a little girl called Catherine Linton – the same Catherine who Heathcliff used to play with as a child. Heathcliff demands an explanation for why Lockwood is in this room when he isn’t supposed to be. Lockwood explains that the servant, Zillah, directed him here, into this room. He doesn’t know however, the meaning this room holds for Heathcliff. As Lockwood said the name ‘Catherine Linton’, the reaction he received was nothing short of puzzling: ” he seemed so powerfully affected that I took pity ”
Heathcliff seems appalled at Lockwood for daring to speak her name. From what I can tell from the book, he seems to go through a range of emotions. He sits onto ‘the shelter of the bed’ and is ‘almost concealed behind it’. Heathcliff also gets really upset and angry. ” I guessed however, by his irregular and intercepted breathing that he struggled to vanquish an excess of violent emotion “.
The mention of her name unleashed a cacophony of emotions, which says that this person means a great deal to him. (Especially if Heathcliff hasn’t changed Catherine’s room in over 20 years). Heathcliff seems very bitter and violent in the morning and almost hits his servant, as quoted earlier. The way she reacts is to move away immediately. It is obvious from her response that she is used to this kind of behaviour from him.
In chapter four, Lockwood returns to Wuthering Heights with a cold. While he is scurried up to bed, he asks his servant, Mrs Ellen (Nelly) Dean, to accompany him. He hoped “she would prove a regular gossip”. Lockwood wanted to know the past history of Wuthering Heights and its owner, Heathcliff. Ellen first describes the whole family tree and who belongs to whom. The family tree should look like this. Ellen describes Heathcliff as “rough as a saw-edge and hard as whinstone! The less you have to do meddle with him the better”.
She takes up her narration by saying that she used to always be at Wuthering Heights, for she played with the Earnshaw children, Hindley and Catherine. Ellen explained how Heathcliff came to be a part of the Earnshaw family, as he is not a blood relative. Mr Earnshaw went on a trip to Liverpool and, instead of bringing back gifts for his children, he brought back a child, dark skinned and talking a funny language: “… repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand”.
The first thing that I took from this, the fact that Heathcliff was technically adopted, was that it added a bit of mystery to his character. This is because no one knows his origins, however I have thought of possible variants from where he may have come from.
He may be a gypsy child that has been abandoned by his family, on the streets of Liverpool. Or it could be that he has travelled over form Ireland and has been left in Liverpool. Another possibility is that he has travelled even further than that, since his skin is very dark and he is ‘talking gibberish’ Mr Earnshaw took quite a fancy to Heathcliff, saying he was ‘a gift from God.’ However, the children hated him. Nevertheless, Catherine became fond of Heathcliff and they developed a very thick friendship as they grew up. Hindley however, still despises him, very much. He feels threatened by Heathcliff because he is older and it is possible that he would he inherit more than Hindley.
It was a few days later that the boy was christened Heathcliff. ” It was the name of a son who dies in childhood.” In his childhood Heathcliff seems almost quiet and is only ever rebellious under Catherine’s influence. He is also very “uncomplaining” against the violence that he goes through when Hindley is constantly abusing him. ” he would stand Hindley’s blows without winking or shedding a tear ” Hindley grew bitter over the years and became more resentful towards Heathcliff. Also Hindley describes Heathcliff as an “imp of Satan”.
This shows a big contrast between Hindley’s and his father’s opinion. I also wonder whether it could be a contrast in Heathcliff’s character, the fact that he can be very quiet and not much of a hassle, but he can also be very devilish in his ways. Ellen states at the end of chapter four that she thought Heathcliff would not take any revenge against Hindley for his abuse, she would be very much amiss: ” He complained so seldom, indeed, of such stirs as these that I really thought him not vindictive. I was deceived completely, as you will hear”.
In chapter five, Mr Earnshaw dies peacefully in his chair. He had previously grown bitter through sickness nevertheless, the scene where he dies is quite heartrending: “Miss Cathy had been sick, and that still: she leant against her father’s knee, and Heathcliff was lying on the floor with his head in her lap”.
A very intimate moment between the three of them, even more so since Hindley has been sent away to boarding school, which causes more resentment towards Heathcliff. In a way, Hindley blames Heathcliff for his father’s death and despises him for being there when he wasn’t. When Mr Earnshaw dies, Catherine and Heathcliff hug each other ” and they both set up a heart-breaking cry “.
Afterwards, they retreat upstairs to console each other over the incident, as Ellen overhears: ” The little souls were comforting each other with better thoughts than I could have hit on. No parson ever pictured heaven so beautifully as they did, in their innocent talk”
In conclusion, the impression that I have formed of Heathcliff is of a very savage, cruel and animalistic man. However, in my opinion, I do think he has a soft spot for his beloved Catherine and, since her death (later on in the book) he has become very reclusive and even more bitter. Heathcliff is also violent to others and quite rude to anyone and everyone, with absolutely no interest in human companionship.
I think his happiest times were in childhood with Catherine.