Justified Revenge Essay, Research Paper
There are many themes to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. However, the most dominant theme is that of revenge. This is especially true in the second half of the book when Heathcliff’s malicious plan of revenge comes to life. Many believe Heathcliff to be inhuman, some even describe him as sadistic and demonic. “Heathcliff’s revenge may involve a pathological condition of hatred, but it is not at bottom merely neurotic. It has a moral force.” (Kettle 121) Still, those who sympathize with Heathcliff realize the turmoil he has suffered. “Though he is inhuman, we understand why he is inhuman” (Kettle 121). When Heathcliff is introduced to the family for the first time, Mr. Earnshaw describes him as; “?it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (Bronte 61). Harold Bloom states that Heathcliff’s “mysterious origin makes him a social outcast?and his destitute adolescence creates a stoical, calculating temperament” (Bloom 22). However, these items alone are not reason enough to justify Heathcliff’s vengeance. The justifications for such vindictive actions were brought about after many years of tolerating cruel mistreatment from Hindley, his love for Catherine, and his hatred and jealousy of the wealthy Edgar Linton.
From the day Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff into the house and names him after his first bore son that died years ago, Hindley despises him. When Mr. Earnshaw returns from his trip to Liverpool, he is to bring gifts for Hindley and Catherine. Yet, when they find that there gifts are destroyed and instead he brings home a “gypsy child’ they are quick to blame the newcomer. Mr. Earnshaw has the highest regard for Heathcliff and is quick to discipline anyone who disrespects him. And thus begins Hindley’s humiliation of Heathcliff. As children, Heathcliff’s horse fell lame and he threatens to tell Mr. Earnshaw of Hindley’s previous thrashings if he does not give him his pony. Only after Heathcliff tolerates another beating, does Hindley give up his pony. He then tells Heathcliff:
Take my colt, gypsy then! And I pray that he may break your neck: take him, and be damned, you beggarly interloper! And wheedle my father out of all he has: only after wards show him what you are, imp of Satan.-And take that, I hope he’ll kick out your brains! (Bronte 65)
Upon the death of Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley returns home to take control of Wuthering Heights. Hindley “drove him from their company to the servants, deprived him of the instructions of the curate, and insisted that he should labor out of doors instead” (Bronte 71). May Sinclair, British novelist and critic states it best by saying that Heathcliff has lost all he possessed through the degradation that Hindley Earnshaw bestowed on him and when his hour comes, pays back his wrong with interest due (38). Hindley’s extreme abuse of Heathcliff escalates when his wife dies giving birth. He begins to drown his sorrows in booze and gambling. This makes Heathcliff’s plot for revenge even easier when he returns in three years.
Catherine and Heathcliff share a deep powerful love for one another. She was the only family member besides Mr. Earnshaw to accept him. “She was much to fond of Heathcliff. The greatest punishment we could invent for her was to keep her separate from him” (Bronte 67)
The power, indeed, is wonderful. Heathcliff, devil though he be, is drawn with a sort of dusky splendour which fascinates, and we feel the truth of his burning and impassioned love for Catherine, and of her inextinguishable love for him. (Lewes 66)
Catherine exemplifies this to Nellie, the housekeeper by saying “he’s more myself than I am?I am Heathcliff!” (Bronte 107-109). E. M. Forster, an influential British novelist of the twentieth century believes that the emotions of Heathcliff and Catherine are different compared to other stories of fiction. “Instead of inhabiting the characters, they surround them like thunder clouds and generate the explosions that fill the novel…” (39-40). The passion that the two share changes when she returns after a five week stay at the luxurious Thrushcross Grange with the Lintons. She has been refined and transformed into a lovely young woman and yet Heathcliff remains dirty and uneducated. “She leads a double life, reckless at home but charming to the Lintons” (Bloom 13). The turning point of the story is when Heathcliff overhears Catherine tell Nellie that Edgar has asked her to marry him and states that “it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now” (Bronte 107). Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights for three years and Catherine proceeds to marry Edgar.
Edgar Linton’s higher social status is what draws Catherine toward him, and at the same time, makes Heathcliff despise him. One evening, curiosity sends Catherine and Heathcliff to Thrushcross Grange. Here they find the two spoiled Lintons, Edgar and his sister Isabella, upset over who gets to play with the family pet. He describes what he saw to Nellie with such excitement. “…ah! it was beautiful-a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables…we should have thought ourselves in heaven!” (Bronte 73) Even Heathcliff admires and is mesmerized by the extravagance of the Grange. When they were caught for spying, Catherine was injured by their dog and welcomed to stay. However, Heathcliff was thrown out. He watched from the window and saw that Edgar admired Catherine and that Catherine admired the glamorous lifestyle they led.
The conflict here is, quite explicitly, a social one. Thrushcross Grange, embodying as it does the prettier, more comfortable side of bourgeois life, seduced Catherine. She begins to despise Heathcliff’s lack of ‘culture’. He has no conversation, he does not brush his hair, he is dirty, whereas Edgar, besides is handsome, “will be rich and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband.” (Kettle 117)
On Heathcliff and Edgar’s second encounter, Edgar participates with Hindley in chastising Heathcliff about his appearance. This infuriates Heathcliff even further and he throws hot applesauce on him. Which of course, leads to yet another whipping by Hindley.
His vow of revenge begins with Hindley’s years of physical and mental abuse. This in turn reduces him to a dirty, uneducated, and cruel person. Which in turn sends Catherine, the only thing he wishes to possess, into the arms of Edgar, his rival. However malicious Heathcliff’s revenge may seem, it is nonetheless justified. Bronte characterizes him as evil and vicious, but yet she still has empathy for him. The cleverness he uses to gain his vengeance is almost ingenious.
For what Heathcliff does is to use against his enemies with complete ruthlessness their own weapons, to turn on them (stripped of their romantic veils) their own standards, to beat them at their own game. The weapons he uses against the Earnshaws and Lintons are their own weapons of money and arranged marriages…He buys out Hindley and reduces him to drunken impotency, he marries Isabella and then organizes the marriage of his son to Catherine Linton, so that the entire property of the two families shall be controlled by himself. (Kettle 121)
This is not to say that Heathcliff’s behavior is condoned, only that it is understood. He feels that by getting his sweet revenge will compensate for the pain he has suffered. However, as he finds out, revenge is not always so sweet.
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