In this essay I’m going to explain the reasons why Heathcliff changes during the course of the story. Heathcliff changes from a person called “it” who’s being beaten, to a man and an aggressive person. But at the end he changes again, he becomes distant and detached from the world around him. By “change” we mean how his personality, attitude and reactions towards others differs throughout the story.
Now I have looked back over the whole story, there are two or three main and decisive reasons why Heathcliff’s changed: his mistreatment by Hindley, Cathy’s “degrading” speech making him leave, and his plans for revenge on the people who have treated him badly.
Heathcliff was treated unfairly from the very beginning, by being called “it”, but his treatment got worse when Hindley became master of the house, after Mr Earnshaw died.
This may have been the first trigger to make Heathcliff change. Hindley and his persistent beating of Heathcliff helped this change. An example of this is when the two of them were in the stables when “Hindley put out his tongue, and cuffed him over the ears “.
Another example of this was when Heathcliff was flocked by Hindley and Joseph for not going to church. At this point Heathcliff never strikes back at anyone, but this changes in chapter 7 when Heathcliff retaliates to an insult that Edgar says to him. He throws apple sauce all over him. This is the first sign we see of Heathcliff’s violent nature. This is probably because he’s fed up with everyone making fun out of him. He most
likely flipped because he was still upset about what Cathy said about him.
Heathcliff shows signs of how he’ll be as well in this chapter by saying “I’m trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back, I don’t care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope we’ll not die before I do god will not have the satisfaction that I will” so we see the initial signs that Heathcliff’s planning for revenge. I believe this change is actually a change in his character and not his natural character like it could’ve been. When Catherine returns from the grange we see Heathcliff being insulted by the one person who had always stuck by him and protected him. During the party Catherine “burst into a laugh, exclaiming why, how black and cross you look! How funny and grim”, so now even Catherine’s laughing at him. This would upset Heathcliff a lot as Catherine is his only true friend and now she’s laughing at him. This may be the point where Heathcliff first decides to take revenge and we see his character change.
But without doubt the major turning point for Heathcliff is Catherine’s “degrading” speech about Heathcliff. When she says, “it would degrade her to marry him”. Heathcliff overhears Catherine’s speech and runs away for three years. This speech may not have been so devastating for Heathcliff if he hadn’t of missed Catherine’s declaration of love for him afterwards. This changes him because he returns totally changed, this was possibly because his only dream was to be with Catherine, but this dream was shattered by her “degrading” speech, so perhaps he thought he would make a clean start.
After three years of the story, and Cathy’s marriage to Edgar, Heathcliff returns. Heathcliff is now almost the opposite of what he was three years ago. He is now well dressed, seems educated, rich, clean, whilst before he was scruffy, uneducated and dirty. So we see a complete contrast in his appearance but
we are not told where he has been or where he has acquired his fortune.
Heathcliff has a “deep voice”, he was “tall”, and his cheeks “were shallow”. There was also another change, which is less obvious on his return but will soon be discovered. It is his mean personality and determined will for revenge which although was present in chapter seven is now even stronger and will do anything for his revenge.
When he first re-unites with Catherine their relationship is still as strong as it ever was, so this has not changed and doesn’t throughout the whole story.
But Heathcliff is yet to discover that Edgar and Catherine are married, the combined factors of this and Catherine’s death would’ve probably have been the reasons why Heathcliff takes revenge on Catherine’s daughter Cathy.
These revenges are the first physical signs of Heathcliff’s changed mind. By the end of the story Heathcliff has taken revenge on almost everyone: including Edgar, Catherine, Isabella, Linton and Hindley. All these acts of revenge probably won’t have altered Heathcliff much because of his toughness, they do emphasise his changed personality though. Heathcliff even enjoys his revenge “I’ve a pleasure in him”
Heathcliff changes once again, right at the end of the novel. He becomes distant and detached like Catherine was near her death. Heathcliff has also lost his temper and has become more pleasant. This is shown when Heathcliff doesn’t lash out at Cathy when she makes improves to the house in Chapter nineteen. So we see that Heathcliff has changed, this is most likely because hareton and Cathy’s relationship resembles Heathcliff and Catherine’s. This is best illustrated by the quote “their eyes are precisely similar, and they are these are those of Catherine Earnshaw”. This means that Heathcliff is reminded of Catherine everywhere in fact “the entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist and I lost her!” so Heathcliff blames himself for Catherine’s death, which is why he asked Catherine to haunt him.
These little reminders made him change because he must have realised again that all he wanted was Catherine and not all this revenge. This was the reason why we see the end to Heathcliff’s revenges, as he is no longer interested in revenge. This is shown by the fact that he’s letting Cathy and Hareton get closer and closer, as before he wouldn’t have accepted this and would’ve put a stop to it ages ago.
So we have seen three main changes in Heathcliff: from a scruffy boy, to a respectful but mean man, and then to the distant and detached person we see at the end of the book. I have discussed many reasons why Heathcliff might have changed but one more reason is that he was changed by the family and not by his own. Maybe he changed because of how he was treated while he was younger. But maybe Heathcliff never changed at all from the beginning of the story but we just kept seeing the different sides of Heathcliff and seeing Heathcliff in his true light.
But this is not what I believe, I believe that Heathcliff did change in the story for many different reasons and that only one thing in Heathcliff stayed the same and this was indescribable love for Catherine. I believe his only true goal was to be with Catherine from the very beginning of the story but only realised this towards the end of the story. I believe Heathcliff realised he didn’t want revenge for what other people had done to him but wanted revenge for what he had done to himself, which was losing Catherine.