Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” reveals the tragic story of Heathcliff – a creature of good and evil. While his inner goodness is just passed onto him at his birth, Heathcliff’s malevolence can be explained by the way he was treated early in his childhood. He is nothing more than a sweet person, brought up in an unfavorable environment, trying to find love and struggling for acceptance in a society he has never been part of. Heathcliff enters the world of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange as an innocent child and leaves as a manipulative and wicked beast.
Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff to Wuthering Heights in order to save a child from the harsh life on the streets and give him the warmth of home. However Heathcliff’s troubles begin as soon as he is made a member of the family. Nobody else, except for old Mr. Earnshaw and Catherine sees his childish innocence and goodness and nobody else accepts him. Mrs. Earnshaw, narrow in her beliefs, considers the poor child an object and she hopes that “it would [miraculously] go away” (22) as if it were some magic creature from the Cinderella story.
She has no maternal instincts and fails to realize she is not only setting a bad example for her children but also affecting the life of a child in a negative way. On the other hand Mr. Earnshaw feels compassion and understanding towards the poor soul and he devotes his time to make Heathcliff’s stay at Wuthering Heights more enjoyable. Being his first time in such an environment, Heathcliff does what every living creature would do; he becomes attached to his new “father” and alienated to his “mother.
Feeling threatened that the family possessions would go to a random gypsy, Hindley threatens Heathcliff, hurts him and uses every single opportunity to make racist remarks about the innocent child. Nelly and Catherine are not left out from that situation either and they sympathize the poor boy and their interactions with him soothe him, and even help him regain his confidence since Nelly explains to him that “for all [she knows, he] can be a prince” and he can not be put down just because he does not know his heritage.
Puzzled by the fact that “he [has] no surname and [they] could not tell his age” (252) Heathcliff grows up believing family background is the key to success. Since half the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights like him and the other half – do not, Heathcliff begins to feel hate during his early childhood. It is fairly easy for the reader to realize how much a child can be impressed by his interactions with a community where family status and background are highly valued. In fact the reader can almost predict that during his lifetime, Heathcliff will strive to achieve that status and do his best to be accepted in that particular society.
However it all changes when Mr. Earnshaw dies and Heathcliff is left alone in this world of hatred, racism and prejudice. Hindley, Joseph and the Lintons despise him, not because he has done something wrong, but because he is different. The unfortunate child grows up in an environment full of hatred and abasement, being loved by only one family member and one servant. Heathcliff’s dark skin color is the center of many jokes and low-spirited, he quietly grows more and more evil. The unfortunate boy even gets “a tureen of hot apple sauce” (46) dashed at his face, just because he has dressed nice and is trying to fit in.
Seeing that he can not be accepted in this society and he can not be together with Catherine, because he is poor, Heathcliff does the only thing left for him to do – he leaves. Heathcliff flees away, hoping this new life will bring him the money and the importance necessary in order to become a valued member of the small Wuthering Heights’ world. Heathcliff’s beliefs and instincts tell him these elements are the key to happiness. Returning as a young powerful man, Heathcliff is disappointed again by the events that have taken place during his absence.
At that time there is no more need for people to feel sorry for him and his status is definitely higher than a servant’s. For the first time in his life he is affluent and important. However it is too late for Catherine to join him since she is about to have a child with Edgar, and not being able to win her back, Heathcliff realizes he will never be happy and loved. That misfortune sparks a fire of hatred in his soul and he decides to take revenge on Hindley, Edgar and all their relatives for all the times they have humiliated and hurt him badly.
Miserable and lonely, rejected by society, Heathcliff begins a slow and brutal plan to make the lives of Hindley, Hareton and Edgar miserable. Heathcliff turns into “a wicked man”(183) and after every step of his plan is completed, he feels immense satisfaction, because he knows he has ruined someone’s life the same way that someone has managed to ruin his. Heathcliff decides he should lower Hindley’s status to only a guest’s in Wuthering Heights and he should also deprive Hindley from the love of his son, since during Heathcliff’s childhood, Hindley was the one who gave Heathcliff most trouble.
Feeling the joy from this meddling, Heathcliff decides he should punish the Lintons for their mistreating him in his childhood, so he marries Isabella and breaks her heart. Heathcliff does not stop there and since he was never truly loved and free to express his feelings, he punishes Cathy by dictating her love life. Heathcliff feels immense satisfaction since for the first time in his life he is able to control other people and manipulate them in malevolent ways. Even though the new master of Wuthering Heights “[has] nobody to love [him]” (219), he feels important and satisfied because he has managed to punish everybody around him.
However the reader realizes that the new owner has taken his actions one step further, because he has also managed to destroy the lives of some innocent people like Hareton, Linton and Cathy who were born one generation after him and they really have had no bad influence on Heathcliff. This is where Emily Bronte brings the theme, that Heathcliff does not just pay back, but he actually “turns into Satan” making innocent, poor souls suffer, the way he suffered when he was new in the community and had done nothing wrong. Heathcliff experiences many unpleasant moments during his life at Wuthering Heights.
He starts off as a sweet child, craving for family love, grows up as a boy looking for love, acceptance and understanding and dies as a miserable creature made of evil. In the beginning his body and soul are full of goodness, but as the story progresses, his character becomes more and more evil as a result of all the interactions he has with the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Even though Heathcliff dies depressed and lonely, his life serves as an example that people are naturally good and they turn cruel and evil only when they are rejected by, mocked by and hated by the society they are in.