In Wuthering Heights, how does Heathcliff change during the last years of his life?
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In her critical essay, "The Waif at the Window: Emily Brontë's Feminine 'Bildungsroman,'" Annette R. Federico writes,
...in terms of the first generation, Wuthering Heights is not a Bildungsroman at all, but an Entwickslungroman, a novel of mere physical passage without psychological development.
Frederico contends that Catherine and her doppelganger, Heathcliff stubbornly cling to their adolescent behavior to the end. Certainly, Heathcliff, after overhearing Catherine disparaging remark that it would degrade her to marry him and leaving the area for a long period, returns with a vengeance, wreaking destruction upon the inhabitants of both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. He is gratuitously cruel to all he knows, although he does seem to care about Hareton at times. At one point in the later chapters much like an adolescent, Heathcliff wishes that he and Catherine could have married, moved away, and then been happy forever.
In Chapter 29, Heathcliff reveals to Mrs. Dean that he has had the coffin of Catherine opened and wished that he could lie there with her. His strange behavior indicates his new wish for peace. In Chapter 33, Heathcliff tells Nelly that he has "lost the faculty of enjoying their [Catherine and Hareton's] destruction" and he has no interest in eating or drinking. He tells Nelly later that his having seen Catherine's body reminds him that she did exist; however, seeing her makes her absence all the worse for him. For Heathcliff, Catherine absorbs his entire world:
"In every cloud, in every tree--filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object, by day I am surrounded with her image!"
In Chapter 34, Heathcliff instructs Nellie to keep Hareton and Catherine away from him because they remind him of Catherine and this resemblance now causes him pain. Yet, after a night of walking on the moor, he actually speaks kindly to Catherine. Nellie describes his appearance as "unnatural" as there is "joy under his black brows..." and "a kind of smile, his frame shivering [with] a strong thrilling." Then, later, Nellie narrates that Heathcliff has told her that the previous night, he was on
"the threshold of hell. To-day, I am within sight of my heaven."
It is not long after his having made this statement that Nelly hears Heathcliff calling to Catherine Earnshaw and what he has called his "heaven" is attained by Heathcliff, and one morning Nellie finds Heathcliff's rain-drenched body stiff with rigor-mortis with "a life-like gaze of exultation." But the old curmudgeon Joseph declares that Heathcliff looks as thought the devil himself has carried him away: "Th' divil's harried off his soul'...he looks grinning at death!"
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