Examine the character of Healthcliff in Wuthering Heights: Is he a realistic character or more of a symbolic representation?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The character of Heathcliff in Emily Bronte's classic Wuthering Heights could be considered a realistic character with a deep and disturbing set of complexes that transformed him negatively. Yet, it is this very transformation what is used as a Gothic literary technique to demonstrate the main aspects of Gothic literature

  • a) a reversal for the worse, 
  • b) the inevitability of faith, 
  • c) a disturbance of emotions, 
  • d) a deadly or crippling problem that ends with the peace of the main character.

Therefore, we can conclude that Heathcliff is a realistic character whose internal demons and horrid experiences growing up molded him into a psychotic and sadistic man. This helps to represent the depth of his grief and the intensity of his hatred.

We must remember that Heathcliff is a gypsy, whose origin is mysterious. Many claimed that his mother was the lover of the lord of the manor, who later rescued him, raised him, and loved him as his own son.

However, he radically switched from an accepting and loving home to a living hades after Mr. Earnshaw dies and his eldest son, Hindley, takes over the manor. The hateful and sadistic way in which Hindleymistreats Heathcliff creates a deep disdain in Heathcliff. This leads him to question his social position, the power of money, his worth as a person, and his love for Catherine Earnshaw. When Catherine chooses another man to marry (Edgar) for fear of being degraded by marrying a gypsy, Heathcliff's life begins to spiral out of control.

We know that Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights a rich man, with power. So much power that he even handles people whichever way he wants, and ends up even taking over the manor. Yet, he never gets to have Catherine. He has everything, both love and hatred, power and submission- but no Catherine.

Hence, Heathcliff clearly could represent a demonic transformation caused by social injustice and plenty of failures. The thing that happens when people are overpowered by an ambition that knows no boundaries.

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Wuthering Heights

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