Upon first glance, it is easy to assume that the main character in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff will either be a hero or a villain. In the nineteenth century during the Romantic Era, the idea of antiheroes or Byronic heroes was slowly emerging. The idea of heroes began to change throughout history, creating the emergence of anti-heroes. The idea of Byronic heroes or antiheroes primarily emerged from the works of Lord Byron. This idea can be further traced back to Milton and his poem Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost was the book that changed the perceptive of mankind. In this poem, the audiences begins to sympathize with Satan in the war between Heaven and Hell, admiring him as the arch enemy who no less an antagonist than Omnipotence. Although he did evil deeds, Satan was the true hero of the poem. Byronic heroes are romanticized but wicked protagonist who over come their obstacles with evil rather than good. Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is considered a Byronic hero or antihero. But why did Bronte make Heathcliff an antihero?
There are certain characteristics that distinguish a hero from and an antihero. Heroes are someone usually a protagonist who overcomes their obstacles using righteous acts. In contrary, antiheroes are heroes who overcome their obstacles using underhanded moves. They are neither good or evil. Antiheroes process a little of both.
Wuthering Heights caught my attention because it was unlike any other books of its time. The book is dark and different. Throughout the books, there were lots of deaths. Deaths constituted the book. It began with the death of Mrs. Earnshaw to the death of Heathcliff. This book was about series of death along with love and revenge. My curiosity got that best of me when I began to ponder why the author made the character Heathcliff the way she did. He was different from the rest of the characters. He was dark and full of vengeance. I had mixed feedings for Heathcliff, one minute I hated him to the guts while another minute I began feeling sorry for him. Heathcliff evoked all sort of emotions for me. He was a really dynamic character. Heathcliff had all the characteristics to win back Catherine’s heart but he didn’t use them. Therefore this question was explored. The question explored will show how Wuthering Heights is different from any other books at that time period and Bronte’s unique usage of antiheroes.
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Wuthering Heights shows resonance because it uses the idea of an antihero. During the nineteenth century it was unheard of for a young girl to write such a gory piece of literature. The theme of revenge and love were overused therefore Bronte took it to a new level. Bronte could easily made Heathcliff into a hero after we came back from establishing his career. After his return, Heathcliff could used his wealth and love to gain back Catherine’s heart. Heathcliff is no longer the man that everyone looked down upon. He’s now a wealthy man with a motivation. Catherine married Edgar Linton because of wealth and fame. Catherine wanted to be higher in the hierarchy. Edgar will give the social status she urges for by making her the “greatest woman of the neighborhood, and shall be proud of having such a husband (84)”. Catherine will be the center of attention. Everyone will know her name.
Characteristics of an Antihero
Why did Emily Bronte make Heathcliff an antihero? Emily Bronte set up Heathcliff for success but instead turns his success against him. After years of disappearance, Heathcliff returns as a wealthy man. How he gained his success was unknown. During the 18th century, Heathcliff did not have all the characteristics of a respectful man in society because his origin was unknown and his skin was darker than the others. He was a considered a gypsy. But Heathcliff made the best of it. Mr. Earnshaw Christianized him by giving him the name of his decreased son. Heathcliff is able to gain the favoritism of Mr. Earnshaw and later Catherine. Mr. Earnshaw is fond of him because he was unlike Catherine and Hindley. Catherine was feisty and wild, while her brother Hindley was spoiled and conceited. The obstacles Heathcliff has to go through constituted his behavior in the future. He became the antihero of the story.
An antihero is a protagonist who does not possess the qualities that makes him a hero such as courageous and righteousness. They may process traits such as courage and love but it is overshadowed by their darkness. This protagonist is motivated by their selfness. In most incidents, they are seen putting others in misery but other times you can see the human side of them. They believe they way to make a change is by breaking the law. They believe the end results is more important than how to get there, thus the ends justify the means. Antiheroes reject the traditional values. They only believe their way is right. But when you understand why the protagonist resort to evil, you will sympathize for them.
In contrary, a hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice themselves for others. Hero does good for society rather than evil. Heroes help others out the kindness of their heart and they are sincere. Heroes are not selfish. Additionally, they show remorse for their bad behavior. They reflect on their bad behavior and tries to repent. They are not motivated my self-interest or self-preservation. Most importantly, they choice what is right. They do not choice wrong because it’s the easiest path. It is easy to go down the wrong path but hard to get out of the easy path. These qualities distinguish an antihero from a hero. In other words, heroes are not selfish and evil.
Heathcliff as an Antihero
In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff resorted to evil because of all the triumph and abuse he had to go through with Catherine’s brother and also with Edgar. Even though Hindley put him through lots of misery, Heathcliff was able to endure it because of his passionate love for Catherine. From this point sympathy is evoked for Heathcliff. The perceptive of Heathcliff is changed. The revenge he seeks becomes justifiable. Unfortunately, Heathcliff’s revenge and greed overshadows his better qualities.
The first obstacle Heathcliff encounters was the disgust the Earnshaw family and the servants brought him upon his arrival at Wuthering Heights. Nelly described Heathcliff was a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child, big enough to both walk and talk (38)”, her first impression of Heathcliff was terrible. She felt Heathcliff was an unwelcomed child because he was different from the rest of them. He was darker than they were and spoke gibberish no one could understand. He was a gypsy with no origin. Nelly was frightened by his appearance and presence. Mrs. Earnshaw was ready to run out the doors. Catherine greeted the little stupid thing with a grin and a spit. The first night at Wuthering Heights was dreadful; Heathcliff was forced to sleep on the landing of the stairs because Catherine and Hindley found it repulsing for him to be in the same room or bed with them. Nelly and Hindley hated the new arrival, “Hindley hated him: and so to say the truth I did the same; and we plagued and went on him shamefully: for I wasn’t reasonable enough to feel my injustice, and the mistress never put in a word on his behalf when she saw him wronged (39)”. Heathcliff’s arrival to the family causes many unhappy faces. Heathcliff becomes the source of everyone’s anger especially Hindley.
Hindley hated Heathcliff from the moment he stepped foot in the house till he died. Hindley mistreats Heathcliff because his father was more fond of him than his own biologically son. Catherine slowly become fond of Heathcliff after she got to understand him. Catherine writes in her diary the events that constitutes her life. She notes the mistreatment of Heathcliff in her diary and the hatred of Hindley towards him, “He has been blaming our father (how dared he?) for treating H. too liberally; and swears he will reduce him to his right place” (22). Hindley hates Heathcliff for taking everything he has from him. Heathcliff captured the hearts of his sister and his father and also his inheritance. The vagabond climb up the social hierarchy where he does not belong. Hindley angrily vows “Oh, damnation! I will have it back; and I’ll have his gold too; and then his blood; and hell shall have his soul! It will be ten times blacker with that guest than ever it was before!”(154). Hindley desperately wants to get back what he lost, and send him back to where he belongs. He’s needs guidance to return back to his righteous place.
Hindley’s resentment of Heathcliff was clear from the beginning, he was not looking forward to any intrusions “From the beginning, he bred bad feeling in the house; and at Mrs. Earnshaw’s death, which happened in less than two years after, the young master had learned to regard his father as an oppressor rather than a friend, and Heathcliff as a usurper of his parent’s affections and his privileges; and he grew bitter with brooding over these injuries” (40). Hindley was suppose to be the man of the house not Heathcliff. Hindley is not easily giving up his privileges and inheritance for a mere beggar. Hindley blames Heathcliff for all his misfortunates.
Through all of Hindley’s mistreatment, Heathcliff was able to become a successful man. He vows to seek vengeance on those he did him wrong, “I’m trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don’t care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do! ” (65), Hindley became the sole reason why he wanted to live and become a wealthy man. His initial plan was to sought vengeance on Hindley because he was the on who caused him the most pain. Heathcliff was unaware Catherine will marry Edgar Linton when he was gone. When he comes back, his plan began to encompass Edgar because he stole his woman. His plan begins to waiver when he sees Catherine, “I meditated this plan – just to have one glimpse of your face, a stare of surprise, perhaps, and pretended pleasure; afterwards settle my score with Hindley” (105). Heathcliff is now torn between love and vengeance. Catherine understands why Heathcliff is doing it because she helped him plot out this vengeance. Additionally, she was also the victim of Hindley’s abuse.
After Heathcliff’s return, life would not have been complicated if Edgar was not involved. Heathcliff’s plan of destruction would not have been messy if Catherine had not married Edgar. Heathcliff would not have turned into the heartless power hungry monster he is now. Although Catherine married Edgar, she stilled had feelings for Heathcliff. Catherine states how she’s still in love with Heathcliff, “he is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the sameâ€¦ My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rock beneath-a source of little visible light, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff.” (87-89), they are one entity and are inseparable. But in a society desires take hold and Catherine marries Edgar despite his soul is as “different as a moonbeam from lightning or frost from fire”(87), although they are different he will bring her greatness. Heathcliff objects their “love” because it is not genuine. He wants to go after this love with revenge. Catherine is still in love with Heathcliff even after marrying Edgar Linton. Catherine was very opposed to the fact that Heathcliff was going to marry her sister-in-law, Isabella. She knows she shouldn’t be angry and jealous but she couldn’t help it. She couldn’t help herself thinking of Heathcliff with another woman besides her. It was cruelty watching him with Isabella. Catherine was shock when Isabella told her about her love for Heathcliff. It was like a stab in her heart. Like Catherine’s “love” for Edgar, Heathcliff decides to marry Isabella. Heathcliff use Isabella as a weapon to carry out his vengeance. It was the only way he punished any one who did him wrong such as the Earnshaw’s and the Linton’s.
The hostile environment shapes the way Heathcliff grew up. Heathcliff became a withdraw and hostile character. The aspect that gives him life is his enduring love for Catherine. Catherine was Heathcliff’s rock. Everything disappears when Catherine and Heathcliff were together, “they forgot everything the minute they were together again: at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge” (49). Catherine helped make all the unbearable misery more endurable. She was his friend, sister and co-conspirator in revenge. With Catherine by his side, he can take on the world along with Hindley’s punishments.. As Nelly described, “She was much too fond of Heathcliff. The greatest punishment we could invent for her was to keep her separate from him: yet she got chided more than any of us on his account” (41). Catherine was always with him through thick and thin. Catherine was with him in times of misery and joy. Their secret escape was the moors where they isolated themselves from the rest of the world. There they did not have to worry about the abuse of Hindley and the miseries that went on. They can be carefree children there. The moor was a place that brought them happiness.
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Heathcliff was not entirely a monster, he held some humanistic characteristics. Heathcliff shares the same emotions as every one else. He shouts when he’s angry and cries when he’s in misery. Heathcliff shows his soft spot when he weeps over Catherine. When Lockwood spoke of seeing Catherine, Heathcliff bursts into tears because life after losing her is a living hell. His unswerving love of Catherine never faded away. He wants her ghost to haunt him for the rest of his life, “And I pray one prayer-I repeat it till my tongue stiffens-Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you-haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always-take any form-drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” (183-184), he wants to feel her presence dead or alive. Heathcliff wants Catherine to be forever by his side.
Heathcliff becomes helpless throughout the book, therefore readers sympathize for him. He is rebellious yet passionate. Heathcliff can’t stop himself now that he started his conquest. He is powerless over the fact Catherine is already married and expecting a baby. The only thing he could do is punish anyone who reminds him of her. His vengeance is carried throughout two generations. Heathcliff is clogged by the idea of vengeance that he makes his only son marries Catherine’s daughter in order for him to gain control of both the Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff hopes to make his son Linton stronger by putting him through misery because it was the only way he knows how to be successful. He tries to replicate his own success on his son. Heathcliff becomes less of a monster when he rescue his enemy’s son Hareton, “it expressed, plainer than words could do, the intensest anguish at having made himself the instrument of thwarting his own revenge” (81), by rescuing Hareton, he put himself into a more difficult situation. Heathcliff will have to work much harder in order to get back at Hindley after his rescue attempt. It would have been much easier if he let Hindley’s heir die but his morals did not let me. Years of planning his revenge proved a failure because he could not win back the woman he loved. Catherine and Heathcliff’s souls are only united through death. While she’s alive it still belongs to Edgar. Heathcliff’s endurance is due to his strength. After years of vengeance, he still was unable to get what he yearn for, he finally concludes it was a mistake, he concludes it was “an absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready, and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished! My old enemies have beaten me; now would be the precise time to revenge myself on their representatives: I could do it; and none could hinder me. But where is the use? I don’t care for striking. I can’t take the trouble to raise my hand! That sounds as if I had been labouring the whole time, only to exhibit a fine trait of magnanimity. It is far from being the case – I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing.” (353). Heathcliff is tired and cannot go on any longer, he understands it was no use of carrying on this revenge because Catherine is dead and also he will be soon. Only through unity of death will they forever be together.
Why make Heathcliff an Antihero?
Emily Bronte make Heathcliff an antihero because she wants to foil his character. Bronte wants to show how evil and good Heathcliff was. She wanted to convey that every human is capable of doing evil. Furthermore she wants to show how love can make someone both evil and good. Love is an instrument that governs how we act. Love is strong and can withhold through any kind of hardships.
Heathcliff as an antihero will bring suspense to the story. Heathcliff’s character keeps the story going. He takes revenge against anything that prevents him from being with the woman he loves. Heathcliff brings both the evil and the good. His character is unpredictable because the reader thinks that after he return he will use his power and wealth for good to gain back what he lost to Edgar Linton. Heathcliff’s character gives another side to society. It doesn’t convey man are either good or bad, it states they are both. The usage of antihero was a new concept used during this period. This new type of protagonist was quite intriguing.
During the first publication of the book, the book was not readily accepted. The book at first was published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. The reader was confused about the book as well as the author. The audience were still unfamiliar with this new genre of literature. The new genre was shocking and unanticipated. It gave a new perceptive of society.
In addition, Bronte characterized Heathcliff as an antihero because of the way she was brought up. Heathcliff represented everything that she wanted. He emerged from her desires. As a little girl, she was deprived of love and power. Emily Bronte grew up in a harsh environment. Her mother died when she was three along with her sisters years later. Her father was a withdrawn man who dines in his room all by myself and so was her aunt. Her brother gave her family a hard time because of his addictions. Her life was sentimental and her home life was anguish. In fact, her life and home were often eccentric and melancholic. As Emily got older, she longed for recognition and wealth. Her family could not afford some of the things other families could. She went to a dismal charity school for daughters of clergymen. It was where girls were sent to because their parents were too poor to send them elsewhere. The conditions at the school were terrible because many of the students became seriously ill. Her sisters Maria and Elizabeth attended the school and perished like other kids who attended that school. Both of her sisters died from tuberculosis and typhoid fever. Years later, Emily died of the same disease on December 19, 1848.
In conclusion, Heathcliff is an antihero. Heathcliff bestow all the characteristics which makes him an antihero. These characteristics include being selfish, self-motivated and self-preserved. Additionally he’s evil, chooses the wrong path, doesn’t showing remorse for his bad behavior, breaks the laws and rejects traditional values. Heathcliff seeks revenge against the Earnshaw and Linton after his return. He wants to get back what was his.
Vengeances made Heathcliff an antihero. It made him selfish and self-interested. It turn him into a heartless monster. Heathcliff uses underhand methods to plot his revenge. He marries Isabella Linton so he could gain the control the Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. He took control of Wuthering Heights when he paid off the debt to the house because Hindley was unable to pay off the debt. He manipulates everyone to get his way. At the end was it worth it? It was not worth it because Catherine died giving birth to Cathy. Heathcliff could not be with for another decade. For the years of her absence, Heathcliff asks for ghost to haunt him because without her he was living in hell. Catherine was the only person that can bring life to Heathcliff. She was the reason why he could go on ever after getting a bad beating from her brother for being different. It crushed his heart that Catherine was willing throwing away love for money and recognition. She did something he could not be forgiven, it was like a stab in the back. Catherine did not want to be with him because he had no social status. He could not bring to her the things Edgar could have.
Additionally Emily Bronte made Heathcliff an antihero because she wanted the reader to understand another side of human nature. She wants to show humans are capable of doing anything. Love is the instrument that can drive us insane. Love is so powerful it cannot be stop. Humans can be both evil and good. Also the use of antihero adds suspense to the novel. It gives us an insight to evil and vengeance. This mixed feelings reflects society at her time.
Heathcliff is a character of various contradictions; his passionate love for Catherine contrasts with his antiheroic desire to gain fortune and seek revenge establishes him as a noteworthy character. He brings misery to both generations of Linton’s and Earnshaw’s. Bronte made Heathcliff into both a loveable and a hated character. The reader wants to sympathize with him because of the cruelty he had to grow up with and the constant bullying of Hindley and the prejudices of others. The reader despise Heathcliff because he uses evil to get what he wants. He came back as a wealthy man, but instead of using his true personality to gain back Catherine’s love, he tries to sabotage it. He had all the characteristics that will help him flourish and gain back Catherine’s love. Heathcliff chose the wrong path to walk. Even though it may have been the easiest path, it showed how uncharismatic he was. Although Heathcliff is an evil person, he should also be credited for fighting for what he believes. His unswerving commitment to Catherine should be seen as a heroic act. Not everyone could fight for what they believe in. It takes strength and perseverance.
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