Emily Bronte was the author or ‘Wuthering Heights’ written in 1847. Due to the social standards of the 17th century, the book was published under the name of Ellis Bell as writing was not considered a suitable occupation for a woman. ‘Wuthering Heights’ is about two different families, the Linton’s and the Earnshaw’s, and narrated by Nelly the interfering house keeper and Mr Lockwood. They tell the story of the main characters Cathy and Heathcliff and show how she chooses to marry Linton as this would have been society’s choice at the time as he is handsome and rich.
However she realises she made the wrong choice and we see how Heathcliff and Cathy’s love for each other leads to death. In this essay I will be exploring Emily Bronte’s presentation of the characters of Heathcliff, considering the commentary she should be making about Victorian society. Emily Bronte was born in 1818 and was the 5th of 6 children.
Two of her elder siblings along with her mother unfortunately died when Emily was still very young. This clearly influenced her novels as we regularly see death imagery and dead people.
She lived in Haworth, Yorkshire next to a graveyard; this also could be why ghosts are used in her novel. In her upbringing in her early childhood, she and her sister Anne would make up fantasy stories called the gondal narratives purely for leisure. When she got older, she decided to become a governess. Emily Bronte uses dual narrative to tell the story of “Wuthering Heights”.
It begins with Lockwood, the new tenant, but later switches to Nelly. This is unconventional as it was accepted in the 1800’s like most things, that books should be narrated by men.
Lockwood is on the outside looking in as he is new to the household. In the opening chapter he says “no wonder the grass grows up between the flags and the cattle are the only hedge cutters” This gives us the impression Wuthering Heights is very isolated and lonely but also wild and overgrown which could be considered to be gothic. Nelly is the housekeeper, who is very opinionated and gossipy. She is the perfect narrator as she switches between the two houses however she may also be biased.
She influences a lot of the events which would not have been expected as she is only a servant. Emily also uses a letter and diary entries in her novel so the reader can see from a different perspective and know how some of the other characters are feeling. Also it would give a different perspective on Wuthering Heights. The Heights are extremely gothic, a quote to prove this is “I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving languished over the front. ” Through out the novel, Heathcliff is treated badly.
Even from the moment we meet him as Mr Earnshaw returns with him as an infant, everyone wants rid of him. Nelly says “They refused to have it in bed with them and I had no more sense so I put it on the landing on the stairs, hoping it might be gone on the morrow. ” Nelly refers to Heathcliff as “it” showing us he means nothing to her just an object without feelings. This would make the reader feel sorry for Heathcliff and see him as victim.
We also see that Heathcliff has been a victim from the start when Nelly says” He seemed a sullen, patient child; hardened, perhaps to ill treatment. This shows he has always been abused and neglected from the moment he was born and so he is used to being treated badly as if it was normal. This could explain his carelessness to other people’s feelings later on in the novel. He also only has one name; this represents him as being unequal and already at a lower social standard. His history is also unknown even though during the 17th centaury this would be considered very important. This also shows him as being unequal and neglected. Cathy has a hate/love relationship with Heathcliff. They grow up together and become play mates but they still argue.
When Mr Earnshaw dies, things go from bad to worse for Heathcliff. Hindly takes charge and tries to stop him and Cathy being friends. He does this by turning Cathy into a lady by getting her close to the Linton’s. The Linton’s also hate Heathcliffe; Mrs Linton calls Heathcliffe “A wicked child” this could also make the reader feel sorry for Heathcliff as he is just a child at this point. Also the word wicked is quite a religious word which Heathcliff is compared to a lot during the novel. Catherine and Heathcliff grow up together and build a strong relationship.
When Cathy develops a strong bond with Edgar, it affects Heathcliff badly. We can see how strongly he feels about Cathy spending so much time with Edgar when he says “the crosses are for the evenings you have spent with the Linton’s, the dots for those spent with me” This shows us how obsessive he is and how much he hates the relationship Cathy and Edgar have. When Cathy rejects Heathcliff, it affects him so much, he runs away for 3 years. This helps us see that Heathcliffe is just a victim of social prejudice as this rejection really hurts him.
When Cathy describes her love for Edgar she says “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will change it” trees will eventually die and so she says this to show that her love for him will eventually end. Also trees are constantly changing so she can never always be happy. She describes her love for Heathcliff as “the eternal rocks beneath” This shows her love for him will never change and will be with her for eternity. Her description for both of them is natural imagery which would link into romanticism.
Catherine is most passionate for her love with Heathcliff. When Cathy rejects Heathcliff she says” It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff” At this point Heathcliff is still listening but when he hears this he runs away for 3 years. He doesn’t hear the good stuff Cathy says about him after. Cathy chooses Edgar over Heathcliffe due to the social standards of the time would make it the right choice. It would “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff as woman had to marry into money and Heathcliff has none. This also makes him a victim of social prejudice.
When Catherine dies Heathcliff wounded response is very animalistic. “He dashed his head against the knotted trunk, and, lifting his eyes, howled, not like a man, but a savage beast. ” a quote taken from Nelly shows him as being very beast like. He is compared to animals and non human through out the book. These images of him are very gothic. We also never see Heathcliff show much emotion but he acting this way shows how he really loves her. This would also show him as just a victim. When he first finds out Catherine is dead he says “You said I killed you- haunt me, then! He says this to show that he doesn’t care what his life is like as long as he is with Catherine. This presents him as a victim of social prejudice as all he wants to do is to be with Catherine. Bronte presents Heathcliffe as being like a Byronic hero.
When Hindley comes home drunk one day, he drops Hareton down the stairs. Heathcliffe catches him by “a natural impulse” this presents him as being a good person as he caught Hareton without a second thought. However, Ellen then goes on stay “Had it been dark, I dare say, he would have tried to remedy the mistake by smashing Hareton’s skull on the steps. This shows the reader he is a fiend from hell because although he saved Hareton’s life, if he had the choice he would have reversed it and let a poor defenceless baby fall to his death.
However this was only Nell’s opinion so we can’t be sure. When Catherine and Hindley are both dead and Heathcliff takes over the Heights, he turns Hareton into a servant. He says “Do you know, twenty times a day, I covet Hareton, with all his degradation? I’d have loved the lad had he been someone else” This shows that even though Heathcliff wants to like Hareton, he wont because of the grudge he has against Hindley, even though he is just an innocent child.
This also presents Heathcliff as a fiend from hell. He also says “Hareton is damnably fond of me” this shows him as being selfish and mean as Hareton still likes Heathcliffe even though he treats him awfully and Heathcliff carries on treating him badly. Also Heathcliff knows what Hareton is going through, yet he doesn’t change anything. Although, he could also be treating Hareton this way as this is the only way he knows to be treated. Heathcliff also treats Isabella badly. We see this when she sends Nelly a letter saying “Is Mr Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil? This also shows Heathcliffe as not being human and he is compared to the “devil” making him a fiend from hell.
He is called devilish many times throughout the novel. She also says “I do hate him”. We can see that Isabella deeply regrets marrying Heathcliffe. Heathcliff only married Isabella to get his revenge on Hindley, to make Catherine jealous and to get Wuthering heights when Hindley dies. This definitely makes him a fiend from hell as this is the wrong reasons to be marring someone. However, he could be doing it as it’s exactly what Catherine done, although Catherine doesn’t treat Linton badly like Heathcliffe does to Isabella.
He also hangs Isabella’s dogs for his own amusement. We see this when Nelly says “Miss Isabella’s Springer, fanny, suspended to a handkerchief, and nearly at its last gasp. ” This definitely makes him a fiend from hell as no normal person would do this to an innocent animal for fun. As Edgar doesn’t have a son, upon his death, his property will pass on to his nephew Linton. Linton is the son of Heathcliff and Isabella. When Linton gets sick, Heathcliff realises that he will get thrush cross grange but just to be sure, he imprisons Catherine, Cathy and Edgar’s Daughter, and forces her to marry Linton.
When Edgar dies, Catherine doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her father due to Heathcliff’s imprisonment. This makes Heathcliff a fiend from hell as he clearly doesn’t care that his son is dying as long as he gets what he wants. He also ruins Catherine’s life and wouldn’t let Edgar say goodbye to her daughter. He seems to ruin everyone’s life for the benefit of his; this would make the reader not like Heathcliff as it represents him as being a villain. However, at this point Heathcliff has the most power, money and status that he has ever had during the novel.
This could show that he is still the victim as he has always been degraded and not good enough. This would make the reader sympathise for him as it shows him just trying to make himself a higher status just to prove he is worthy. I think overall Heathcliff is a fiend from hell. He treats most people badly even if they have done nothing wrong. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself and Catherine. However, this could be because Catherine was the only one to treat him respectively from the start but this doesn’t explain his actions towards people who have never done anything wrong to him like Hareton and Isabella’s dog.
Even though he is a fiend from hell, I believe he is only this way because of how he has been brought up and been treated. I think this because when Nelly says he catches Hareton like a “natural impulse” it shows that he is deep down a nice person. If he wasn’t treated badly all his life, he would know not to treat others badly. I also believe that because he never did anything wrong at the beginning and people still treated him as a victim of social standards, is the reason that he thinks he can treat people that way to. So overall I believe he is a fiend from hell but he was made to be this way so he is also the victim.