Heathcliff, one of the central character of Wuthering Heights, evolves from an empathetic, innocent victim to a self-centered vindictive individual. This transformation is slow and develops in three distinctive parts. First, Heathcliff is sympathetically portrayed as an interloper. Next, he is characterized as an individual who is beginning to lose his innocence because he is coping with situations beyond his control. Finally, Heathcliff is a hardened man who manifests hostility and anger toward everyone. The change from victim to victimizer is what makes the novel interesting and timeless. It also hooks the reader because he or she identifies with the main character and recognizes elements of his or her own personal growth and development.
Heathcliff is brought to Wuthering Heights as a dirty, ragged, gypsy boy, by Mr. Earnshaw, the master of Wuthering Heights. The orphan child is baptized with the name Heathcliff, the name of an Earnshaw baby that died at birth.
As Heathcliff grows up, he is compared to a “cuckoo” by Mrs. Dean. A cuckoo is a bird who comes into a nest and takes the place of the natural siblings. Heathcliff, like a cuckoo, is an intruder who takes the place of a natural offspring and becomes the sole focus of the family. This circumstance foreshadows a life of a child who tries to be something that is impossible. Heathcliff can never be more than what he is. He can never be accepted as a natural son in the Earnshaw family. Regardless of what he does or how hard he tries, he will always be the interloper.
Early in the novel, Heathcliff is picked on by Hindly and he assumes a assertive and threatening posture. “You must exchange horses with me: I don’t like mine: and if you won’t I shall tell your father of the three thrashing you’ve given me this week, and show him my arm, which is black to the shoulder. “ [Ch. 4 Pg. 34] Heathcliff knows that he is resented by Hindly and that he can do nothing to please him, therefore, he takes an offensive position and the hope that through intimidation Hindly will leave him alone. Believing that the best defense is a good offense, Heathcliff expresses his intent to gain the affection of his adopted father by aggravating Hindly, the natural son. Heathcliff uses Hindly’s bad disposition to his advantage.
Despite Heathcliff’s efforts to get along with everyone and be accepted by the family, he is continually put down and never truly excepted. He never resolves the fact that through no fault of his own, he will never be a true family member. The reader feels empathy for this poor child who has been taken to a strange home and thrown into a situation that he cannot win. Heathcliff soon learns that the only way he can handle Hindly, the natural son, is through threats and acts of hostility.
Hindly never accepts Heathcliff and resents his placement into the family. Consequently, he abuses Heathcliff and slowly Heathcliff becomes hardened and bitter. These traits of distrust and bitterness set the tone of Heathcliff’s life and eventual outcome of the book. The circumstances of Heathcliff’s adoption alienate the other members of the family. Heathcliff is brought into a home out of love and pity, but because of the conditions that surrounded the humane acts of compassion, the love that began with good intentions ends in disillusionment and devastation.
In Heathcliff’s dialogue with Hindly, he is slowly getting angry because he was put into a situation he had no control over. Now he feels he is being hurt because of something he was not responsible for. It’s easy for people to sympathize with him because he is a child. He is not in control of his environment and he is brutally tormented and mistreated by Hindly.
Later in the novel, after Heathcliff has acquired an education and refinement, he visits Edgar and Catherine and surprises everyone with his friendly nature and entertaining demeanor. “Are they at home? Where is she? Nelly, are you not glad! You needn’t be so disturbed. Is she hear? Speak! I want to have one word with her-your mistress. Go, and say some person from Gimmerton desires to see her.”
Heathcliff is now a tall, polite, and athletic young man. His countenance is intelligent and well-mannered, a huge difference from the young Heathcliff who ran off angry and humiliated when Catherine chose to marry Edgar instead of him. Heathcliff’s return is a result of his need to see Catherine. It is an uncontrollable desire and it demonstrates his inability to accept her rejection of him. Once again, he is trying to be something that he is not. Despite the fact that he is no educated and refined, h still needs the acceptance of the family. He has to return because his identity is tied to being a member of the family. He cannot reconcile the fact that he was rejected as an orphan and is now rejected as a young man.
Because of his age, the reader does not sympathize with Heathcliff as much as when he was a child. Also, when he returned everything was calm and running smoothly in Catherine’s life and his selfish need to see her ruined that. However, despite the fact that he has now assumed some responsibility for his own life, he is still a sympathetic character because he is driven by his uncontrollable love and immaturity.
At the conclusion of the novel, after years of frustration and coping with an unrequited love, Heathcliff is an angry and embittered individual who has lost his humanity. “’I know how to chastise children, you see,’ said the scoundrel, grimly, as he stopped to repossess himself of the key, which had dropped to the floor. ‘Go to Linton now, as I told you; and cry at your ease! I shall be your father, tomorrow-all the father you’ll have in a few days-and you shall have plenty of that-you can bear plenty-you’re no weakling-you shall have a daily taste, if I catch such a devil of a temper in your eyes again’”
Heathcliff has become a bitter man who takes pleasure in humiliating people and inflicting his will on them. He has a nasty temper and a mean personality. Heathcliff takes pride in hurting people by physically and emotionally abusing them. The transition from tormented to tormentor has made Heathcliff a villain. He is an alienated and embittered man who has let life ruin him because he never got over a circumstance of his adoption that left him insecure and the rejection by Catherine that left him lonely and frustrated. Throughout the course of Heathcliff’s change from an innocent child to a corrupted man, the reader loses his empathy for Heathcliff and replaces it with hatred.
Evolution of heathcliff in wut