Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Is Heathcliff a hero or a villain in Wuthering Heights?

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Heathcliff would certainly be classified as a villain over a hero but that does not mean that he is completely evil and does not warrant sympathy. When Heathcliff is a child, Mr. Earnshaw finds the orphaned boy alone in the streets of Liverpool. Mr. Earnshaw adopts him, yet he is not considered an equal in the family due to his dark skin and assumed low-born origin. Heathcliff has a wild spirit and an insolent temper, and he is quick to anger. He grows up playing with Cathy on the moors surrounding Wuthering Heights and grows to love her. Heathcliff becomes jealous when Cathy is courted by the...

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Heathcliff is a man who has been cultivated as a result of the difficult upbringing that he had been forced to endure during his childhood which transformed him into an individual consumed with the intense passion for vengeance, an outlet that he relies on as a means of acting on the ravenous wrath seething within him. Although his condition is viewed sympathetically through the perspective of the reader, Heathcliff is nonetheless considered a villain as he is swift to bring forth considerable suffering to his eventual descendants as well as upon the people that he deems to be responsible for all of the pain that he has withstood.

There is a popular saying that evil is established within a person over time, rather than wickedness being an innate trait. The first series of actions that sets Heathcliff upon a path of anguish and eventual retribution in the form of relentless brutality and malice, is when he becomes the victim of abuse at the hands of his half-brother Hindley Earnshaw who at once becomes riddled with envy at the prospect that his own father would demonstrate more affection to a child who was not biologically his (Wuthering Heights). After Hindley's father meets his demise, it is Heathcliff who is coerced into servitude where he is deprived of the dignity that he had initially wanted and is continually treated with cruelty at the hands of Hindley,which naturally compels Heathcliff to develop animosity towards him as a result(Wuthering Heights). Of course, it is also worth pointing out that the only other person who treated Heathcliff with any kind of respect was Catherine Earnshaw, the biological sister of Hindley.

In spite of having to withstand the vicious abuse from Hindley, Heathcliff is able to cultivate a close and rather intimate relationship with Catherine Earnshaw and grows resentful when she begins to develop closer ties to Edgar Linton, a man of exceedingly unique characteristics who lives at Thrushcross Grange (Wuthering Heights). Naturally, this form of jealousy stems from a possessiveness where he feels that only he is worthy of reveling in receiving the immediate affection of Catherine. Furthermore, just when it seemed that his suffering may end, Catherine winds up entering a marriage union with Edgar rather than with Heathcliff, which prompts the latter to retreat for several months where upon he returns with the tenacity to make the residents of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange experience similar bouts of suffering that he was forced to withstand for many years (Wuthering Heights).

Part of what makes Heathcliff classify as a villain rather than a hero is the fact that rather than attempting to make peace with his former enemies, he subjugates them to agony as a means of acquiring some sort of personal profit. The two individuals who bare the grunt of his rage and thirst for vengeance are Isabella Linton, the sister of Edgar, who initially hails from Thrushcross Grange as well as Hindley, the very man who happened to be Heathcliff's former perpetrator of malicious abuse (Wuthering Heights). Eventually, Heathcliff grows weary of the notion of retaliation against the first people who lived at both Wuthering Heights, along with the descendants who wound up replacing them, and yet, he does not seek to undo his cruel acts just as a more heroic person would. Rather, he decides to reunite with the only woman he ever loved, who happens to be Catherine, and in doing so he perishes from refraining from eating.