Since its release, Wuthering Heights has been a subject of criticism for many. The only novel by Emily Jane Bronte, written in 1847, has been put under the spotlight due to its doubtful theme, which is revenge and its causes in people’s lives. The author smartly narrates the story about a young man named Heathcliff, carrying the sorrowful fate, and explores the reasons why he turned to revenge, how he implemented it, and what consequences it had.
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Revenge of Heathcliff may be vicious, but exploring the reason is moving the reader one step closer to unravelling the cause. Mistreatment and abuse for Heathcliff begin in his early childhood. Being an orphan, brought to the Wuthering Heights, protagonist is immediately “faced with rejection” (Ebert 40), as the children of the family were not expecting another member to arrive. Having done nothing wrong, Heathcliff continues to suffer from the oppression of others. Bronte designates these signs in the following line: “He has been blaming our father (how dared he?) for treating H. [Heathcliff] too liberally” (30). This phrase implies that Hindley, being Heathcliff’s stepbrother, had a significant resentment towards the main character. By calling him an “usurper of his parent’s affections and his privileges” (Bronte 55) onwards. He further proceeds to humiliate Heathcliff by making him the servant and being constantly reminded of his status. As a result, the loathing grows and leads to the revengeful behaviour later in the story.
The acts of retaliation committed by Heathcliff alone lead the narrative to the dark place, let alone him having a co-conspirator. He begins his plan with Catherine, his friend and someone he holds dear to his heart. Further on, Catherine chooses to turn her back on the main character and instead fancies Edgar and takes a vow with him onwards. Despite this situation, Heathcliff does not proceed to take revenge on Catherine. Protagonist explains his motive by saying “The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them.” (Bronte 51). The reversed tyranny begins from his foster brother Hindley, whom he deprives of the finances and social status at first. He continues with taking the privilege away from Hindley’s son, Hareton, and gives back all the mistreatment he suffered from Hindley before. Then he proceeds to take his revenge on Edgar, by marrying his sister Isabella and taking her away. The torment continues with the imprisonment of Second Catherine in a marriage that is far from enjoyable. To summarize, there is a clear pattern of vengeance present throughout the novel.
The result of Heathcliff’s decisions becomes clear as soon as he realizes his wrongdoings. He concludes that he may never achieve happiness through vengeance and peace may only be brought into his life when he lets go of the need to seek retaliation. Even though received the desirable wealth and dealt with his enemies, “no spirit was left in him to indulge in it” (Majid 8). The author is not only clearly portraying the phenomenon of a retaliation in a doubtful light, but also implying that it can be “more devastating than the actual wrongdoing” (Ansari 306), leading to sleepless nights and pitiful destiny. The realization that his actions lead to harming the innocent generation brings the main character to even more frustration.
In conclusion, Bronte takes the reader on a journey to see the reason, process, and cause of revenge. As a result, a reader may see a pattern completed by the main protagonist of the story, Heathcliff, in which he faces harsh consequences, and receives nothing beneficial as well. What lead Heathcliff to committing acts of revenge in the first place as the fact that those who were mistreated then do the same to others is a really powerful insight that Bronte has brought into her story.
Ansari, Sanaullah, et al. “The Themes of Evil and Revenge in “Wuthering Heights” a Novel by Emily Bronte”. International Journal of English and Education, vol. 6 no 2, 2017, pp. 298-308.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Planet eBook, 1847. Planet eBook.
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Ebert, Lisa. Ambiguity in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. Ferdinand Schöningh, 2020.
Majid, Asma. “The Unjustified Justice: A Re-reading of Wuthering Heights.” Journal of Arts and Humanities, vol. 7, no. 9, 2018, pp. 1-8.