Heathcliff- The Villain of Wuthering Heights 


Another post on this blog has suggested that the character of Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights should not be considered the villain of the novel. He is just a confused man, enraptured by passion. I entirely disagree, to the point where this blog post is a rebuttal of the previous one.

Wuthering Heights is not a novel full of likeable characters by any means. I found it impossible to feel any sympathy for anyone as the story progressed. However, there was one character who I thought, if anyone, was the villain of the piece, the ‘dark skinned gypsy’ Heathcliff.

If anything, it is Heathcliff’s actions which make him a completely reprehensible character. From attempting to strangle dogs, to imprisoning young Cathy and Nellie at the Heights, very few things that Heathcliff does are what can be considered good.
How is it possible to empathise with a character that digs up the rotting corpse of their adoptive sister and possible lover? Of course, therein lies the whole incestuous element to the story. Despite being essentially brother and sister, it is heavily implied that the two engage in a sexual relationship behind Edgar Linton’s back, his son looking suspiciously like Heathcliff. And indeed in the second half of the novel, Heathcliff becomes obsessed with the idea of owning both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, which involves marrying his son and Cathy’s daughter, who are blood cousins, their other parents being siblings. How can someone believe that Heathcliff is not the villain in this text, the man who forces an incestuous relationship upon his son and niece?

It is not just his actions that make Heathcliff a despicable person. Brontë seems to despise him too or at least uses language in the text to create that image. Some seem to consider him a misdirected Romeo, but he is described as a ‘monster’, ‘Satan’s imp’ and it is even asked ‘Is he a man?’ which seems to question his true humanity due to the heinous acts he commits. Even after death, Heathcliff’s malignant aura takes a while to vanish, the ‘stunted firs’ and ‘sharp thorns’ eventually being replaced by flowers, growing on the side of the Heights. This seems to confirm that Heathcliff’s awful actions were not learnt from elsewhere, but were a part of him, something which made the earth he stood on a colder and more forbidding place.

In conclusion, it should be very difficult for someone to actually feel any real sympathy towards Heathcliff. Despite his ‘soul’ mate leaving him for another, his actions before and after this tragedy do not win himself any favours whatsoever. He certainly isn’t a stereotypical villain, but I would argue against him being simply a man mistreated and misunderstood.


    • jennafer
    • February 26th, 2012

    Really good idea to link it to Sarah’s blog entry, got a debate going on. Also really well written 🙂 xx

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