Saturday, February 4, 2012

Heathcliff: What went wrong with him?

Heathcliff features in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and throughout the literature history has been famous for being a passionate lover, a man hell bent on revenge, despicable yet pitiable. His story is no less stirring, born to an n unknown, he was adopted by Mr. Earnshaw and brought to live in the house, treated like a son for years only to be brought down to the level of a servant once Earnshaw died. He fell in love with Catherine, his adoptive sister and together two of them spent many years in lover’s bliss, ignorant of the circumstances and situations of the household until Cathy was unwittingly married off to the rich Edgar Linton and Heathcliff felt the last straw of justice disappear.
Life had not been fair to Heathcliff and now theories abound on why he acted the way he did. Through the discourses of the servants and later descriptions in the book, it has been supposed that Heathcliff was an illegitimate son of Mr. Earnshaw and guilt in the father prompts him to be exceedingly kind to his lost son, so much so that his legal heir, Hindley feels neglected. This is the seed of the first hurt in Heathcliff’s life. He hated tremendously hated by Hindley who doesn’t lose an opportunity to belittle the dark gypsy boy. Things take a turn for the worse when Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley takes charge only to banish Heathcliff into the life of a servant. This creates ground for the second hurt.
Heathcliff had not been born into riches but as a impressionable young boy had Mr. Earnshaw provide for him, he was loved and lived luxuriously till he was turned a mere servant. This might have affected his already weak psyche and he suffered from humiliation over his lost identity. To make matters worse, people started being overtly kind to him, the cook, the maid and the housekeeper. And it has been made obvious that Heathcliff does not take kindness as mere kindness but more as a sign of pity and he resented that. His origins are shrouded in doubt but whatever life he had, that of a gypsy boy, it had been tough that it matured the little boy and he came to trust no one.Mr. Earnshaw was a father figure and slowly he took a liking for Cathy, the boisterous younger daughter of Earnshaw.
Cathy had a wild streak about her and being with Heathcliff ignited that further, the two would indulge in games and wild chases across the moor and when Mr. Earnshaw died, this companionship was taken away from Heathcliff when Cathy was forced to change into a lady. Not accustomed to change, Heathcliff didn’t take it too well and instead grew distant and colder. Cathy loved him fiercely and the only way she could devise to relieve him of his life or servitude was by marrying her rich suitor, Edgar and propelling Heathcliff with her money. Obviously, Heathcliff rejected this and it turned into the greatest hurt of his life, spurned by the only girl he had ever loved, the only surviving person who he cared for. Heathcliff ran away with revenge in his heart, blaming everyone else for his tragedy.
He was already mistrustful of people and with the situation in hand never looked at solutions to problems and instead chose to dwell in his past, inkling for revenge and formulating a plan for that. He did have his revenge, he destroyed Hindley, who he blamed for his misery and destroyed Cathy emotionally who was still in love with him and in doing this, he destroyed himself all over again. He never wanted to better his own situation and instead focused on breaking the bonds that held him to sanity, his closest relations, he destroyed them all.
It is easy to dismiss Heathcliff as a negative person, hell bent on revenge but to dig deeper into his mind, we come across the hurts he had been through and how they shaped him. He was already held to sanity by fine chains in infancy when he had no proper life(this is all guesswork but pretty obvious from the book) and he trusted Mr. Earnshaw only to lose him and loved Cathy only to have her leave him. It broke the man and he chose to recline into the safety of his mind and past. He chose to ignore everyone else who loved him or could save him and lived in the hell he created for himself, turning bitter day by day.
He has been portrayed as mad-mad but he was far from mad, he lived in a fantasy he created for himself where he and Cathy were together again. He knew very well he could not have his father back and the only practical choice was Cathy and he clung to her, not accepting that she might be gone forever. She, on her part never let him go as well and they created a parasitic relationship with each other that destroyed their families. When he came out of his fantasy to see the reality, it enraged him and he went on to destroy the thing that had destroyed his fantasy. Revenge does feel like the right thing to do if you feel you have been wronged and in case of Heathcliff, he blamed everyone else for his miseries.
In the end, he craved loved so much that he was willing to be with the corpse of Cathy only to feel her loving embrace once again, he cried out for the ghost of Cathy to haunt him only to have someone tell him they loved him and he died in agony over Cathy only to have her save him.

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