What is a villain? The dictionary definition of a villain is ‘A wicked or malevolent person’. In my opinion, this portrays Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights perfectly, as he is bent on seeking revenge on all those who hurt or did wrongful things to him in his childhood. However, at the beginning of ‘Wuthering Heights’ we see Heathcliff in a more perfect light, which indicates that he is not a villain at all. Mrs Rutter, from The Darkness out there, however, is, in my opinion, a villain. In her past, she committed some wicked deeds, such as allowing a young German fighter pilot to die a slow, and presumably painful death. At the time that she did this, it may have been more understandable to commit such a deed on ‘one of them’. I also think that part of the reason that she did this is the fact that her husband had been killed as a pilot in the war as well, and, like Heathcliff she may have been seeking revenge for her dead husband.
There are many different kinds of villain. There is the pantomime villain, normally an evil, scheming character, plotting something, who is always overthrown at the end by the hero. Then we have the real life villain, suck as a crook, or a murderer, and unfortunately, things don’t always go so sweetly where they are concerned. Then we come to our kind of villain, the story villain. Yet again, we can divide this up into two types: the children’s villain and the adult’s villain. The children’s villain is similar to the pantomime villain in most stories, as they are always captured at the end of the story and brought to justice.
The villain in adult stories, such as Wuthering Heights is much more sinister and ‘real’ in some senses, but not in others. For instance, if we were to describe Heathcliff as a villain, we would see that he is not a young persons villain and seemingly unreal, but he is written in the story as a seemingly believable character, who is quite capable of being a villain. However, if we look at Mrs Rutter from ‘The Darkness out there’, we feel that she cannot possibly be a villain when we first meet her, but as the story progresses and she tells us about what she has done in the war to the young German pilot, we find ourselves thinking ‘Is this woman really what we think she is?’
When Heathcliff first appears in Wuthering Heights, not one character sees him as a ‘villain’. For instance, Isabella sees him as a romantic hero. Lockwood looks upon him as if he is some kind of loner, or a recluse. However, he is so violent, that animal imagery is used by Emily Bronte to describe him. However, about half way through the book, people begin to look upon him in a different light, especially Nelly, as after Catherine’s death, he mercilessly tells her ‘I have no pity’. The story takes another twist, as when he visits Catherine’s grave, for the funeral of Edgar Linton, and he sees Catherine’s spirit again. After this encounter, he claims that he is seeing her spirit everywhere he looks, and he says ‘this world is a horrible collection of memories, and I have lost her’, obviously referring to Catherine. I believe that he refuses to eat or drink anything, so that he can be reunited in heaven with Catherine, once he has died.
This quality puts him into the category of a hero, yet I feel this is out weighed by the number of ‘evil’ things he does during the book. He leaves Wuthering Heights, and returns as a man who has done well for himself in life considering how he used to live. I think that he has elevated himself to a social class above the others at Wuthering Heights, and that they might be finding this hard to accept, and this creates tension between the group and Heathcliff. Also, he acts the way that he does, mainly because of all the times that he was abused in his childhood, and I feel that he is hell bent on seeking revenge on all those who sinned against him. I think that this is a definitive characteristic of a villain, and I therefore classify Heathcliff as a stereotypical villain.
Mrs Rutter is, however, a completely different case. She is almost the opposite of Heathcliff, because we are lured into a trap of believing that she is a harmless old woman who is receiving a bit of loving help from two young, keen children. She is made to seem like a jolly, harmless old woman, when Penelope Lively describes her
‘Mrs Rutter’s smiles folded into one another’
and the fact that she is constantly complimenting them-
‘I expect you’re a nice strong boy, aren’t you?’
‘You’ll be courting before long yourself, I don’t doubt. Like bees round the honey pot they’ll be.’
By using words and phrases like this, she is attempting to lure the reader into the trap that Mrs Rutter is a wonderful old woman, who has never done anything bad in her life. Then, she slowly begins to spill out her story, much to the disgust of the two young helpers. She also tells it in a way that makes you wonder whether or not she has this on her conscience, as she says it in the way that she talks about everything else-
‘There weren’t any flames; it was just stuck there in the ground, end up, with mess everywhere. Drop more milk, dear, if you don’t mind’.
In the next line, it describes the girl shuddering, possibly at Mrs Rutter’s coldness when she tells them that there were still bodies, when she obviously cares more about the tealeaf floating in her tea, than the death of a young German pilot. I think that this makes her a villain, as it shows no sense of remorse nor does not suggest in any way that she is senile. If this was so, then maybe the two children would look upon her in a different light, along with the reader.
She is constantly complimenting Sandra, yet she sometimes takes this complimenting a bit far-
‘Mind your pretty skirt, pull it up a bit, there’s only me to see if you’re showing a bit of bum’
‘You’re a lovely shape Sandra, you make sure you stay that way’.
‘Of course, I had a figure then’.
I feel that Sandra realises that Mrs Rutter is remembering old times, and does not say anything back to Mrs Rutter, as she is scared to hurt such a lovely old woman’s feelings. However, I think both of the children’s attitudes change when Mrs Rutter relates to her the tale of the German plane in the war. I think the two children are also scared witless of the old lady, and what she is capable of-
‘The boy’s spoon clattered to the floor; he did not move’.
When this is written after Mrs Rutter tells him that she left a twenty-year-old pilot to die in the back of a German plane is very effective, and it really shows that the boy is in pure and utter shock about this.
‘The boy shoved his chair back from the table.’
Then the boy says
‘I’m going. Dunno about you, but I’m going.’
I feel that this shows us how scared the children really are, and scaring children, to me, seems like a quality that a typical villain has. However, the next few lines make me believe that Mrs Rutter does not know what she has really done-
”Eh?’ said the old woman. ‘You’re off are you? That was nice of…’
She seems surprised that the two children are leaving, after being told such a horrible story. To any normal person, this would seem natural, and this implies that Mrs Rutter is showing true qualities of a typical villain.
When I studied Mrs Rutter and Heathcliff’s character, I found that both have done villainous things in their lifetimes, but only Mrs Rutter is the real villain. This is because of the way in which the two characters are written into the stories. I think that Mrs Rutter was intended to be a villain, as the words used to describe her indicate that she is a chummy, helpless old lady, who is generally relying on help from young people, whereas she is actually cold, callow, manipulative and nasty which is demonstrated by the evil thing she did in her past. She showed no remorse when recounting this to her audience. This means that Penelope Lively is brilliantly misleading the reader. Heathcliff however, is quite the opposite.
Emily Bronte writes him into Wuthering Heights with a horrible childhood, for which he wishes to seek revenge, and he returns to Wuthering Heights as a snobbish, evil man. At first glance he fits the definition of a villain brilliantly. However he would do anything to protect Cathy, and this is proved when, at the end of the book, he kills himself for her. This proves to me that Heathcliff is not a villain, whereas the opposite is true for Mrs Rutter because the story does not suggest any kind of mental disorder. I also think that the two authors have succeeded in writing the two characters into the stories in the way that they intended.