Wuthering Heights Character Review: Heathcliff

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

There is something magical about a romantic leading man. Even in human form, with his imperfections, there is something ideal and dreamy about this kind of character. On the surface, Heathcliff, the male protagonist of Wuthering Heights seems like the romantic leading who sweeps not just the female protagonist off her feet, but the readers as well. The important word in that sentence is seems.

Heathcliff’s origins are unknown. He is an orphan found on the streets by Mr. Earnshaw and taken back to Wuthering Heights. Raised within the family, Heathcliff’s soulmate is Catherine, Mr. Earnshaw’s daughter. His nemesis is Catherine’s older brother, Hindley.  After Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley becomes master of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is cast out of his comfortable life and forced into servitude.  His bitterness and anger are kept at bay because Catherine is around.

Heathcliff’s bitterness and anger starts to grow exponentially when Catherine gets engaged to Edgar Linton, the son of a wealthy and respectable family. Vowing to get revenge, but still deeply in love with Catherine, Heathcliff comes back a few years later with a tidy fortune and ready to get back at those who he believed wronged him. But along the way of getting his revenge, Heathcliff leaves a few victims in his wake: his wife, Isabella Heathcliff (nee Linton), and the next generation of Lintons, Earnshaws and Heathcliffs. But in the end, it is his pure and abiding love for Catherine that prevents the darkness from completely swallowing him.

To sum it up: the idea of Prince Charming is nice, but Prince Charming is boring. It’s been done to death. Readers remember Heathcliff because while he is a dark character whose actions and morals are questionable (especially in the second half of the book), he loves Catherine. He loves her so much that after she dies, he begs her spirit to stay with him. He keeps going back to her after she has married, knowing full well that she is married and not caring a fig for her marriage. Sometimes the key to a writer’s success is to take a standard character, add in a few out of left field characteristics, flip the character on its head and see what happens. It is the joy of writing and the joy of reading to discover a character who has been seen before, but is also totally new and different that he or she is unforgettable.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Emily Bronte, Writing, Wuthering Heights

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