Review: Heathcliff Teaches the Lessons in Wuthering Heights

By: Kayla Stephensen

In Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff spends the majority of the book plotting revenge on his childhood tormentors: Hindley Earnshaw, who he often butted heads with as a child, and Edgar Linton, who marries the love of Heathcliff’s life, Catherine Earnshaw. He torments by causing pain to the descendants of his oppressors whose characteristics are often ironic. Catherine’s child looks like her and maintains Catherine’s fiery personality which Heathcliff had always liked. Catherine’s nephew, Hindley’s son, also bears a resemblance to Catherine and has her stubborn resilience. Heathcliff’s own son Linton Heathcliff, however, looks exactly like Edgar Linton, Linton’s uncle. There is a painful irony of his own son looking like his bitter enemy and his enemies’ offspring looking like the woman he loves, demonstrating that children are not exact copies of parents and are not responsible for paying for the wrongs their parents have done against others.

Heathcliff plots to take revenge on Catherine Earnshaw’s brother, Hindley, who takes over Wuthering Heights when Mr. Earnshaw–Heathcliff’s only powerful ally–passes. As Hindley grows, he becomes increasingly unstable and is more often drunk than sober. He has one son, Hareton, and neglects him enough that Hareton came to prefer Heathcliff to his own father–another of Heathcliff’s ploys to destroy Hindley. His other plot was to con Hindley out of his own home and leave him destitute while Heathcliff takes over the very home he used to be forced to serve in. When Heathcliff returns from a mysterious three year disappearance, he methodically gambles Hindley out of his estate and in fact makes Hareton a servant. This is the ultimate revenge: Hindley dies with nothing after being born with everything, unlike Heathcliff.

Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love as partners in crime. Catherine believes that if she marries Heathcliff, they will be destitute and miserable together, so she marries her crush, Edgar Linton, who is the heir to Thrushcross Grange. This only infuriates Heathcliff more and serves to further his bitter vengeful intentions. Catherine dies giving birth to their only child, Catherine Linton, named after her mother. 

Edgar’s little sister foolishly falls for Heathcliff when he returns from his disappearance. Catherine warns her against Heathcliff’s devotion to only her, but Isabella Linton refuses to listen. Heathcliff finds out her secret and manipulates her into marrying him in order to cause further pain to Edgar. Isabella eventually runs away and gives birth to her son Linton Heathcliff who was born shortly after Catherine Linton. When Isabella dies, she requests Edgar take over raising Linton but Heathcliff takes him instead. Heathcliff then plots to make Catherine and Linton marry so that he is then in control over the heirs of Thrushcross Grange, especially since Linton’s health is poorer than his mothers. He forces Catherine to marry Linton before Edgar dies, thus securing his obtainment of both of his enemies’ homes and livelihoods. 

Heathcliff joined the family as a child when Catherine Earnshaw’s father picked him up on the way home from a trip. He was assumed to be an abandoned child of a gypsy and as a result received much persecution throughout his life which he allowed to fester inside of him and turn him into a bitter man.

Heathcliff thus outlives his oppressors, has their descendants under his power and is now a wealthy man. He gets everything he wants and yet at the end of the book, he remarks, “My soul’s bliss kills my body but does not satisfy itself.” Thus Heathcliff teaches us that devoting one’s life to hatred and revenge will never lead satisfaction.

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