How to inaugurate the blog? I wondered. One of the circumstances that pushed me to create it was my enthusiasm towards literature. Books were always a passion of mine but, for some reason, after finishing high school I did not read as much as I used to before. However, these last two years of studying British works properly have awakened that fire again (thank you, Shakespeare). I had serious doubts regarding whether my knowledge and my writing skills would be sufficient for the task, but this morning I received the grade for an essay about Wuthering Heights and, well, let’s say that an A+ encourages anyone. Although I did want to share it from the very beginning (since my Twitter timeline has been hearing about the goddamn essay nonstop for weeks), it makes me feel somewhat self-conscious. This is the first and only essay I have ever written. I seriously doubt it is good enough as to receive such a high grade, but I poured a lot of effort into it (and re-wrote it at least fifteen times), so I would like to thing it is rather decent.
Before you continue reading, it would be wise for me explain that this story touched me in a very personal (even incomprehensible) way, as you will be able to read in a review about the book in another post. The original premise for the essay was to somehow condemn Heathcliff’s blind vengeance but, as I reached the end of the book and started writing the first draft for the assignment, my animosity turned into downright empathy and the theme of the essay turned into a deep exploration of the protagonist’s emotions and intentions – and of his love for Catherine. The full explanation behind my personal view will be found in the future review, anyway.
I would like to remind the readers that you can’t in any way plagiarise my work. If that happens, I will find out and the consequences won’t be pretty. (Read that with Liam Neeson’s voice.)
Without further ado, here you go:
(Beware sensitive people: tons of feelings and spoilers.)
Heathcliff: Hate, Love and Revenge
This essay delves into how Heathcliff’s blind pursue of vengeance ultimately turned against him in the most unforeseeable manner. He is both the hero and the villain of our story, almost pictured as a demonic creature by the unreliable narrator, but the truth is he was just a desperate man moved by the only emotions he knew, two chaotic and conflicting forces: hate and love.
First and foremost, Heathcliff is a very powerful, intense character―in essence, unfathomable. I believe that the inattentive reader would not be able to fully comprehend him beyond the façade of a cruel, unforgiving man. However, he is very much like a force of nature: vibrant in his childhood when he run around the moors hand in hand with Catherine, regarded as another son by Mr Earnshaw; slowly turning hostile after his death while enduring Hindley’s mistreatments; and dreadfully dark once he felt betrayed by the only person who mattered to him, leaving and then returning to Wuthering Heights full of ruthless intentions to provoke the downfall of those who made him who he is. Throughout the entire novel, hate, love and the blinding desire for retribution dance around each other within his troubled heart, guiding his hand.
Heathcliff wanted revenge on the two men who had hurt him the most in the past―his foster brother, Hindley Earnshaw, and his rival, Edgar Linton. Moreover, even though he denied it numerous times, he also held a fierce resentment against Catherine. He loved her more than anything yet hated her for leaving him alone. But they were so similar―two halves of a whole―that he seemingly could not admit, not even to himself, how much he desired to avenge his broken heart. If his dear Cathy suffered, he would suffer, but it would also bring him a great satisfaction. These were the foundations of his own perdition. In hurting Catherine, he was driving a stake through his own heart. “Nelly, I am Heathcliff!” (Brontë 59) He went as far as considering her death a personal affront, a second betrayal, since she was leaving him alone once more in a world who despised him and which he despised even more, cursing her spirit not to rest in peace until his own could join her in the afterlife. Hereafter, he was creating a new path of revenge on a fourth party, himself, by asking to be haunted by his lost love until the end of his days.
‘May she wake in torment!’ he cried (…) ‘Why, she’s a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there – not in heaven – not perished – where? Oh! You said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer – I repeat it till my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest a long as I am living! You said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. (…) Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! (…) I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!’ (Brontë 121-2)
The first steps of his vendetta would be the ones he took against Hindley upon his return to the Heights. He rejoiced in the latter’s decline into alcoholism and gambling, encouraging it while he appropriated the house and treated his only child as one would an animal―in a similar manner to how he had treated him in their childhood―, relegating the boy to live like a servant. Hareton Earnshaw did not know the affection of his biological father and he never met her mother, but Mrs Dean raised him with devotion during his early youth. Heathcliff’s reappearance in the moors removed every trace of the woman from his life, and for years the boy only knew unkindness, ignorance and harsh words, growing to become an ill-mannered illiterate lad.
The course of Heathcliff’s plans change from the very beginning without him noticing. First, he married Isabella Linton with the sole purpose of taking his personal revenge on Edgar, for he had taken Catherine away from him and he planned on doing the same with his sister. He did not love her, he was incapable of loving anyone besides Cathy, and it was already too late when his unfortunate wife realized his true nature. Then, his antagonistic relationship with Edgar hurt Catherine to the point of making her seriously sick, driving her into an ‘Opheliac’ madness wandering between this world and the next… and eventually, to her death while giving birth. This tragedy both infuriates and devastates Heathcliff, because it means the loss of everything he cares about in this world―it means the smothering of the flame that kept love alive inside him. From then on, there would only remain the bottomless hatred. There is nothing left to inspire him into benevolence, and so he abandons himself entirely to this new inhuman personality.
In the words of Thomas Vargish: “Heathcliff’s importance lies, during most of the second half of the novel, in this efforts to resist the meaninglessness which is otherwise the inevitable corollary of complete isolation. (Vargish 14)”
Part of his vengeance would fall onto the next generation. Hareton had been suffering his mistreatment for years, but there were two more remaining pieces on the chessboard. Shortly after Hindley’s death, Isabella had run away to never return and successfully hidden the existence of a mutual son from his violent husband―until her demise. As soon as he learnt about the existence of the boy, he reclaimed him like his possession, thinking he would share some of his traits, but young Linton proved to be a disappointment; fragile, effeminate, peevish, the splitting image of Isabella and not a trace of Heathcliff on him; and turned into yet another receptacle for his father’s rage and a soldier in his plans of ruining what was left of his old enemies. If Linton and Catherine II married before the boy’s impending death, both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange would belong to him, as well as the legacy of both Hindley and Edgar, whose children would live in the most absolute financial and moral ruin.
He loathed Catherine II because “she represents by her existence and in her qualities the union of Catherine and Edgar Linton” (Vargish 15). Young Cathy and Hareton were the children of the two men he hated but, curious enough, they can be considered the spiritual heirs of Catherine. She does not resemble her mother physically, but they are both stubborn passionate women; while Hareton grows to become the splitting image of his deceased aunt, so that Heathcliff cannot look at him without remembering her. Besides, over the years he has been raising the boy without him realizing it, perhaps in a despotic manner but one that created an unexpected paternal-filial bond nonetheless―judging by Hareton’s reaction to his death.
In the end, all those long years pursuing revenge led him exactly to where he desired: owner of both houses, rich, with his enemies underground and their heirs disgraced… but he did not felt the fulfilment he expected. I do not consider money truly satisfied him, because he only wanted it as a means to be superior to Edgar and Hindley, especially the former since the apparent reason behind Catherine’s marriage into the Linton family was their fortune. He only wanted the properties to strip the younger generation of its dignity, power and social titles, but once he had them “the image of the first Catherine interposes between Heathcliff and his revenge” (Vargish 15), personified by her daughter and nephew. “Those two who have left the room are the only objects which retain a distinct material appearance to me; and, that appearance causes me pain, amounting to agony” (Brontë 235) At this point, he has lost the purpose of his vengeance and only wants to be reunited with Cathy, as he confesses to Mrs Dean:
‘It is a poor conclusion, is it not… An absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses (…), 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! (…) I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing.’ (Brontë 234)
In conclusion, he never suspected that his cruel intentions and methods would be participants in Catherine’s death, nor that Hareton could rouse within him any trace of paternal emotion and his own son quite the opposite reaction; that Hindley’s poor mistreated heir, notwithstanding, would conserve in the very depths of his being the dignity they so desperately had tried to snatch away from him, authentic passion, and a humanity that should have perished in the atmosphere in which he was raised. These traits prevailed and blossomed under the care of young Catherine, so that their fated union as the recreation of Heathcliff and Cathy’s love meant the crumbling of our protagonist’s bitter resolutions, allowing him to let go of the past and finally walk past this world, into his favourite ghost’s waiting arms.