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Essay: Discuss the portrayal of Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s novel

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  • Published: 9 April 2023*
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  • Tags: Wuthering Heights

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Question 2 “[I]t’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (Wuthering Heights). Discuss the portrayal of Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s novel.

In this essay I will discuss Emily Bronte’s portrayal of the landlord Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. The novel centres around Heathcliff’s life story from the age of a young boy to the present day when he meets Mr. Lockwood. As the novel progresses, the reader learns more and more about Heathcliff’s character as he is revealed to be unkind, selfish and cruel.

Mr. Heathcliff is introduced in the first paragraph in the novel when Mr. Lockwood arrives at his door intending to rent Thrushcross Grange from him. This first description of Heathcliff informs the reader that he is not a friendly man. Upon his first meeting with his new tenant, Heathcliff tells him “I should not allow any one to inconvenience me, if I could hinder it walk in!” From this pronouncement, it is clear that Heathcliff is not fond of interacting with other people as he views it as an inconvenience. Bronte also writes “The ‘walk in’ was uttered with closed teeth, and expressed the sentiment, ‘Go to the Deuce’” to describe how Heathcliff interacts with Lockwood, further clarifying that Heathcliff is a very hostile man.

Heathcliff’s servant, Nelly, tells Lockwood to avoid Heathcliff and says “Rough as saw- edge, and hard as whinstone! The less you meddle with him the better.” Nelly’s words matter because she also tells Lockwood that she has known Heathcliff since he was a young boy therefore she must know him better than anybody, having lived with him for many years. The fact that Heathcliff’s own servant would speak of him in this way communicates the sentiment that Heathcliff possesses very few or perhaps even no redeeming qualities. From Nelly’s testimonial, it is apparent that she believes Heathcliff to be cold and she know that Lockwood would do better to avoid conversing with the old man.

Lockwood describes Heathcliff as a “dark skinned gipsy” and he is curious as to how a man of such an appearance could live in such a grand home. In Lockwood’s opinion, there is a juxtaposition in Heathcliff’s gipsy appearance to his upperclass, gentleman status as Lockwood does not believe that a gipsy could achieve such a thing. Lockwood also states “I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling” as he believes that Heathcliff’s demeanour is reflective of his background.

Although Catherine Earnshaw is raised with Heathcliff and develops feelings of affection for him, she still cannot deny Heathcliff’s true, savage nature. When Isabella declares her love for Heathcliff, Catherine warns her about his malicious and unkind character. Catherine says “Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone… Pray, don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior.. he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man.” From Catherines statement the reader understands that Catherine believes Heathcliff to be an evil man and she tries to stop Isabella from pursuing him so that she does not get hurt by his actions.

It is clear that Heathcliff is a vengeful man. He seeks vengeance on Hindley Earnshaw for Hindley’s treatment of him when he inherited Wuthering Heights. Hindley is cruel towards Heathcliff because his father had always preferred Heathcliff to Hindley. After Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights he makes Heathcliff work on the land like a slave, causing Heathcliff to seek revenge on him. Although Hindley dies, this is not satisfactory enough for Heathcliff and he plans to treat Hindley’s son just as Hindley treated Heathcliff. Heathcliff says to the boy “Now, my bonny lad, you are mine! And we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it!” The fact that Heathcliff would intend to treat an innocent child so harshly speaks volumes about his evil nature and shows that he would mistreat Hindley’s son, just to get vengeance.

Heathcliff is an extremely selfish character, only concerned with his own needs and desires. This is displayed after the death of Heathcliff’s one true love. When he is told that Catherine has died in child birth, he is only interested in his own grief. He proclaims “…Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living…” Heathcliff would rather Catherine come back from the grave to haunt him as a ghost than allow her to rest peacefully. He would deny her knowing the peace of death just to satisfy his needs. Heathcliff also shows no concern for the wellbeing of Catherine’s new born daughter or her husband because he does not even mention them while he is grieving catherine, highlighting his selfish attitude.

In summation, Heathcliff’s character is portrayed in many ways throughout the book. We see Heathcliff as a young orphan boy who grows into a wealthy and powerful man yet he still hold grudges of his youth far into his adulthood. Heathcliff is an evil individual as he seeks revenge upon those who have wronged him in the past, even after they are deceased. He is also hopelessly selfish as he constantly only thinks about himself and how he is impacted by certain situations such as Catherine’s death.


Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin, 1847


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