Explore How Heathcliff Is Portrayed by Bronte

April 9, 2018 History

Explore how Heathcliff is portrayed by Bronte in Volume 1 of Wuthering Heights Bronte centres the novel on Heathcliff’s story. One of the first things Lockwood, the narrator, mentions is how he beholds Heathcliff’s “black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows”. Straight away the audience pick up on his mysteriousness as the gothic protagonist. The past is hidden deep inside the darkness of his eyes and is reflected in his physical appearance. One very confusing aspect of Heathcliff’s character is his social position, is he a gentleman or a gypsy? Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman. ’ Here, Lockwood attempts to define him by use a seemingly oxymoronic statement with the two opposing ideas of a “gyspy” and a “gentleman”. Bronte employment of Lockwood as a narrator is successful because it allows the reader a companion when trying to comprehend such a complex novel. It is Lockwood’s, as well as the reader’s, first time of meeting Heathcliff.

However, Lockwood’s first interpretation of Heathcliff seems slightly facetious once Heathcliff’s history is revealed, he is far from a “gentleman”, taking delight in vengeance. Lockwood’s label as a “misanthropist” is also wrongly placed. He feels he can understand Heathcliff “by instinct” but this turns out to be largely untrue. If a character in the novel who is directly involved with Heathcliff can be erroneous in his judgement then how is the reader, who is learning about Heathcliff through Lockwood, suppose to be any better?

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This creates a stronger bond between narrator and reader as both attempt to understand Heathcliff as a person. On the other hand, however, Lockwood’s mistakes are a warning to the reader not to rely on their “instincts” by emphasising how easily Heathcliff’s complex character can be misread. Bronte’s implementation of unreliable narrator could be seen as a way of defending her ‘hero’. Edgar says to Nelly later in the novel: “Heathcliff gained his ends, and triumphed in robbing me of my last blessing”. The word triumph is associated with success and rewards.

This particular selection of words shows how Heathcliff is portrayed in a positive light for doing something that is somewhat immoral. Attempts to comprehend Heathcliff are made even more difficult with his lack of intercourse with Lockwood. “He said nothing, but frowned, and did not encourage me to enter”. Lockwood can see this as quite an ill-mannered act, much the opposite of the “gentleman” he first described him as. Again, Bronte is presenting Heathcliff as a very cryptic, mysterious and enigmatic character.

One seemingly plausible description of him is later contradicted and so it is very hard to make a decisive judgement on the character during any part of the novel except for the end. Moreover, this relates to Bronte’s warning to the reader not to rely on instincts as a form of judgement, especially with a complicated character like Heathcliff who has something irregular, perverse and a fundamental intricacy about him. Bronte employs another, much more indirect, approach to helping decipher Heathcliff’s character. She personifies the house and in doing so, also gives a deeper insight into the social classes of the time. Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult’ Bronte is communicating to the reader through this statement. She implies that the reader should analyse the setting in order to gain a better understanding. Her descriptions serve a greater purpose than simply engaging with the reader; they are significant literary devices used to spark an understanding of the underlying themes. It is worth, therefore, noticing the significant difference in the two major properties in the novel.

Working class people inhabited Wuthering Heights, while Thrushcross Grange was inhabited by those higher on the social ladder. When Heathcliff and Catherine “peek” through their window, it shows that they aspire to be on the same level, socially. Heathcliff aquires both and this symbolises his character. He has the facade of a “gentleman” of high social rank, but has the “gypsy” like demeanour. Heathcliff resides at Wuthering Heights, a place that is constantly bombarded by the “north wind”. This stormy surround can often emulate Heathcliff’s emotional anger at the betrayal of his beloved Cathy.

Heathcliff represents a typical protagonist of the Romance genre at the time; internalised in his emotions and lonely but there is hope that he will ultimately becomes much more of a typical hero with the experience of love. Heathcliff, however, as much as the reader wants him to, never becomes this typical hero and has much the adverse effect from love. Heathcliff is further coupled with his residence with the description of the “narrow windows deeply set in the wall” that coincides with Heathcliff’s withdrawn “black eyes”.

Bronte makes Heathcliff one with Wuthering Heights; both of them are cold, dark, and menacing, similar to a storm. As the novel moves on, the plot moves backwards in time. At first, we are introduced to a suspicious and rude man although Lockwood labels him as a “gentleman” with an “erect and handsome figure”. As the story progresses, we are told of his better qualities that he has, somewhat, lost in later life. This technique is clever as Heathcliff starts of as a character to which the audience feel antipathy towards but evolves into a more respectable one when the opposite is actually true; he grows more abhorred in his old age.


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