Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Is Heathcliff worthy of any sympathy in Wuthering Heights?

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No one can deny that Heathcliff incites numerous cruelties throughout his revenge-driven planning in Wuthering Heights. But his character is not entirely without sympathy—after all, Heathcliff is a complicated central character. Depending on which part of the novel you read, you may find yourself rooting for him, loathing him, or feeling sorry for him.

So should we feel sympathy for him?

Often readers feel bad for the Heathcliff because he is born a mixed-race orphan—possibly of Romani blood—in early nineteenth-century England. The feelings caused by this implied sense of "otherness" often motivate some of his more abominable acts. He wants revenge on Hindley for treating him like a servant. He wants to prove to Catherine that he can reach a level of social prominence that exceeds Edgar Linton. The author attributes a lot of these feelings of inferiority as the chief reason for what the character does. Well, that and love.

We also know that Heathcliff loves Catherine. Past works about love often train our brains to justify the concept, not matter the consequences. Sure, Romeo and Juliet is a blood bath, but their love is written in the stars. In the same way, we want to believe that Heathcliff is justified in his actions because he does it in the apparent name of love.

But his abuse of Isabella in the novel is cruel and cannot be defended with the ties of love. Many readers hold out hope for Heathcliff until the end. But nothing comes from this hope. He dies unfulfilled and haunted by the deeds of his past—an end that befits his prolonged malevolence in the story.

Still, his death leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We want to believe that Heathcliff is worthy of redemption, even when all signs point to the contrary. Brontë tests our sympathy of Heathcliff throughout the entire novel. It's a testament to the power of the romance novel that we hold out hope for him until the bitter end.

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