Is Heathcliff a realistic character or more of a symbolic representation? Discuss.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Your question really needs to specify what, if anything, Heathcliff might be symbolic of. Anyway, it is clear that this novel is driven by this central character and much effort has been expended in trying to explain and understand him.

What is interesting about his character, however, is that he seems to reject being categorised or being interpreted. He appears to be the kind of character where readers see what they want to see, becoming an open box for their own views and prejudices. Note how the novel seems to be very ambigious in actually determining something of the precise nature of Heathcliff. On the one hand Nelly repeatedly describes Heathcliff in terms of savagery, using animal imagery or supernatural imagery. He is described as a "vampire" and a "savage beast". Yet on the other hand, Nelly also stresses his common humanity with the rest of us. Thus we seem to be played with as readers as the novel continually never refuses to damn Heathcliff entirely. We interpret his cruelty as a twisted expression of his frustrated love for Catherine, or that his disturbing acts are just a smokescreen to hide the heart of a Romantic hero. As readers we keep on expecting Heathcliff to display hidden virtues. It is important to realise how Bronte is playing with and subverting the traditional Romance genre. Normally, Romantic heroes are brooding and dangerous at first, only to emerge later in the novel as compassionate, loving and devoted. Think of how Jane Eyre "tames" Rochester if you want an example of this. And let's face it - the cliche of a "bad man" being made good by a "good woman" is a stereotype that abounds in today's fiction and media. Whatever your view on Heathcliff, I think everyone agrees that there is something strangely compelling about a character that is so stridently independent and cares little for the mores and values of the world. He is a character that is much bigger than the pages of the novel that try to contain him!

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ivana | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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Heathcliff is often viewed as a symobol of a typical romantic hero. Shurely, there is a lot of romantic elements in his characterisation.

Personally I find his characterisation more complex then that. By following his psychological life  closely from early childhood to his turning into a haunted men, the author has provided us with a descriptive characterisation. That is why I think Heathcliff is a realistic character.

I must admit I found Heathcliff very credible.

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udonbutterfly's profile pic

udonbutterfly | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Heathcliff is a realistic character that holds symbolic meaning. What makes Heathcliff so realistic would firstly be his love life. Unlike other love stories where the pair who are utterly in love with each other end up together by some unseen fate it does not work that way in Wuthering Heights. Reality sets in as Catherine realizes that well she can't spend her life depending on love to maintain herself. If it was a perfect world Catherine would have never had to debate whether or not who to marry Edgar and Heathcliff would have never had to plan revenge.

However what makes Heathcliff so symbolic would be how he was constantly out casted and seen as a demon but he climb the ranks in a society where it's very difficult to do so.

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feeruse | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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I think Heatcliff embobies both realistic and romantic elements in his character. When he encounters the realities of the life like social class fact; he escapes from Wuthering Heights and then return with great wealth and education. Gaining these qualities are quite romantic (because we have element of mystery)

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