How does Emily Bronte present the character Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights? Consider the narrative voice and Bronte’s language choices. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is portrayed in a certain way which changes drastically throughout the novel. The way in which others perceive him differs and gradually changes as the novel progresses. The reader is not provided with enough information on his background to know enough about his former life. We only become aware of whom he really is, later on in the novel when he narrates for himself.
Wuthering Heights centres around the story of Heathcliff. Nelly’s story begins with his introduction into the Earnshaw family, his vengeful machinations drive the entire plot, and his death ends the book. The desire to understand him and his motivations has kept countless readers engaged in the novel. She admits that at his introduction to the family, she took an immediate disliking to him. This is revealed when she says, “but Hindley hated him, and to say the truth I did the same”.
This makes it clear that Heathcliff did not give off a good first impression through the verb “hated”. The first paragraph of the novel provides a vivid physical picture of him, as Lockwood being the narrative voice describes how his “black eyes” withdraw suspiciously under his brows at Lockwood’s approach. The description of “Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire… Heathcliff’s appearance reveals both his ambiguous racial background through the adjective “dark skinned” and his attempt to elevate himself socially through the use of the nouns “manners” and a “gentleman” suggesting his attempt of fitting within the society. The phrase “Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living” highlights that fact that he acquires the property, he can never change his appearance and what it implies socially At this point in his life, he has transcended his gypsy background and gained control of both properties.
Three years pass by without anyone knowing where he is, but when he reappears in the novel it becomes apparent that he has gone through some major changes. Nelly, being the narrative voice, describes the new Heathcliff when he had returned after a long time as “a half-civilized ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows, and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued; and his manner was even dignified, quite divested of roughness though too stern for grace”. The use of metaphor shows how demonic and angry Heathcliff looks. This would frighten the reader and make them believe that Heathcliff was a monstrous and evil character.
Heathcliff being disappeared shows the change itself becomes a hidden mystery of some kind, and it is more or less up to the reader to figure out what actually happened to Heathcliff while he was away. The adjective “half-civilized” followed by the noun “ferocity” and then the verb “lurked” portrays a fierce animalistic imagery of Heathcliff’s return after three years. This demonstrates that Nelly thinks that Heathcliff was evil to begin with, but now that he had been left alone he was able to come out of his shell and fully reveal his frightening and horrible self.
The phrase “his manner was even dignified, quite divested of roughness though too stern for grace” portrays that Nelly is acutely conscious of some essential characteristics that have survived what she calls Heathcliff’s ‘transformation’ from a young “dark skinned gypsy” to a gentleman. Bronte’s choice of narrators give the reader an impression of the changes, as none of the narrators went away with him, and consequently there is no one to tell us what happened at this point. All we are left with is the new impression of a full grown man.
Heathcliff does not reform, and his malevolence proves so great and long-lasting that it cannot be adequately explained even as a desire for revenge against Hindley, Catherine and Edgar. As he himself points out, his abuse of Isabella is purely brutal. Isabella view on Heathcliff is “don’t put faith in a single word he speaks. He’s a lying friend, a monster, and not a human being”. This shows that Isabella, being the narrative voice is the person who knows what Heathcliff is really like. The imperative particle “don’t” conveys her trust in Heathcliff and warns Nelly not the believe him.
The triad “he’s a lying friend, a monster, and not a human being” shows his character, and us as reader are likely to believe Isabella and feel sympathetic towards are as Heathcliff amuses himself by seeing how much abuse she can take and still come cringing back for more. Heathcliff, however, defies being understood, and it is difficult for readers to resist seeing what they want or expect to see in him. Heathcliff is something other than what he seems—that his cruelty is an expression of his frustrated love for Catherine, or that his sinister behaviours to conceal the heart of a romantic hero.
During the passage where Heathcliff, being the narrative voice is telling Nelly about how he is coping with the death of his lover Catherine, his personality is shown quite clearly. This passage explains the belief of Cathy’s ghost and the reaction Heathcliff has to this. Heathcliff tells Nelly that he dug up Catherine’s coffin: “I’ll tell you what I did yesterday. I got the sexton, who was digging Linton’s grave, to remove the earth of her coffin- lid, and I opened it”. The use of the first person singular conveys his actions and his feelings as it suggests he is very passionate but also very disturbed.
The short declaratives “I’ll tell you what I did yesterday. I got the sexton” portrays that he feels sympathetic towards himself, as if he is a victim in the situation. The verb “remove” shows the disrespect yet passion he has for her after her death and still loves her. Nelly hastily interrupts him and says, “You are very wicked Mr. Heathcliff”. The short declarative with the adjective “very” followed by the verb “wicked” conveys her attitudes towards Heathcliff. She doesn’t understand that his desire to rejoin Catherine might indeed explain the majority of Heathcliff’s actions.
We expect Heathcliff’s character to contain such a hidden virtue because he resembles a hero in a romance novel. Heathcliff is a character in ‘Wuthering Heights’ whose character has altered tremendously and in turn altered so many others. This is due both to the other characters either showing him love or showing him hate and his own personality. Bronte paints a complex picture of a tormented and tormenting individual resembling a straightforward version of the Byronic Hero.