Sunday, November 22, 2015
The Tortured, Vindictive Hero: Heathcliff
No male character represents the archetype of a tortured man better than Heathcliff from Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
The familiar film adaptation from 1939 with Laurence Oliver tells the story of only sixteen of the novel's thirty-four chapters; the movie is a tale of the doomed romance between the well-bred heiress, Cathy Earnshaw, and Heathcliff, the gypsy boy her father adopted. When she dies at the end of the film (and halfway through the novel) he is a ruined man, and becomes an bitter villain bent on the destruction of members of Cathy’s family.
The complete novel recounts Heathcliff's retribution on those who have taken Cathy from him and treated him as a servant or worse.
“…You loved me — then what right had you to leave me? What right — answer me — for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart — you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.”
From Wuthering Heights Chapter Fifteen
This is part of Heathcliff''s tortured words to Cathy on her death bed. Heathcliff is not an admirable man; his only redemption is due to his passionate love for Cathy.
Heathcliff is generally thought of as a romantic hero, but is he, really? When the woman he loves is taken from him by a rival who is from her social set, vengeance is his recourse. In the novel, retribution goes beyond his enemies, and continues into the next generation. He is a man driven not by love, but revenge.
Can destructive actions be forgiven in the name of love? What do you think?