What color is Heathcliff and does it matter?

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Heathcliff’s description in Wuthering Heights leads one to believe that he descended from Roma’s or gypsies.  He was a child found by Mr. Earnshaw and brought home to be adopted.  He is described as dark and brooding which addresses his appearance as well as his overall mood as the story progresses.  He has dark skin and dark hair.  He is a dark and mysterious man of whom we have little knowledge before his arrival at the Earnshaws.

The color of Heathcliff’s skin and his features matters greatly in the story. He comes into the Earnshaw family as a social outcast.  His skin color signifies even more of the difference between Heathcliff and those around him.  In addition, it helps to set him apart from the others in the story.  He is a rich character carved against characters who are fair in skin and elegant in nature.  He is wild and displays no social graces.  His darkness gives rise to his mood and his evil nature which surfaces after he is rejected by his beloved Cathy. He becomes a handsome man who changes physically into an attractive and well groomed property owner.  The irony is that as Heathcliff’s appearance is enlightened by his change in circumstances and his desire to become “better,” his soul darkens as he plots his revenge.

English gypsies refer to themselves as the descendents of Rome or Roma.  While their true origin is unclear, they are believed to have migrated from France where gypsies’ colonies settled after coming from regions in Egypt and India.  Since some gypsies may have mated with European partners, Heathcliff may either have been a mixture of Roma and European features with his skin coloring being brown.  His features would then give way for the romantic illusion of a man with a carved physical appearance with dark foreboding but romantic features.

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