How does Emily Bronte portray the character of Heathcliff in chapter 16?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 16, Catherine has just died after giving birth to young Catherine, a puny baby that is born prematurely. Heathcliff has been keeping vigil outside of the house because Edgar Linton would not let him in to be by Catherine's bedside when she died. Nelly goes outside to try to find Healthcliff to tell him that Catherine has died. She wants to inform him of what has happened, yet she is fearful of finding him at the same time. She sees Heathcliff outside, leaning up against a tree. He has obviously been outside watching all night. He is disheveled and grieving and he tells Nelly that she does not need to tell him that Catherine is dead, he already knows.

Heathcliff and Nelly have a conversation about Catherine's death and although Heathcliff is obviously grieving, he is angry and bitter and blasphemous when Nelly tells him that Catherine is at peace, and in a better place. Heathcliff rejects this reference to heaven and continues to answer Nelly with anger and bitterness. Nelly believes he is just so troubled that he is trying to hide his faith:

“Poor wretch!” I thought; “you have a heart and nerves the same as your brother men! Why should you be anxious to conceal them? Your pride cannot blind God! You tempt him to wring them, till he forces a cry of humiliation.”

However, Heathcliff will have no part of this. He is angry at Catherine for leaving him, for not calling for him, for not mentioning his name:

“May she wake in torment!” he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. “Why, she's a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where?

This chapter shows Heathcliff at his worst - a very scary character who both loves Catherine passionately and at the same time hates her for her treatment of him and for having married Edgar Linton.

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Wuthering Heights

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