Heathcliff is the protagonist of Wuthering Heights and is introduced in the very first chapter. The narrator of the story is Lockwood; a visitor to wuthering Heights and it is he that informs the reader of Heathcliff first. Heathcliff owns Wuthering Heights and Lockwood visits the house in the opening chapter. Despite Lockwood’s best efforts, Heathcliff appears to be a hostile character. He speaks very little and Lockwood describes him as ‘surly’ and ‘suspicious’. In meeting Mr. Lockwood, Heathcliff is described as ‘keeping his hand out of the way when he meets a would-be acquaintance’. This presents Heathcliff as a bad mannered individual and emphasises the point of his hostility. However, Heathcliff attempts to redeem himself by explaining that ‘guests are rare’ and that he hardly knows how to receive them. This statement results in the readers having less of a poor opinion of him. He appears less hostile.Order now
Heathcliff comes across as fairly recluse and Lockwood actually says that it is ‘astonishing how sociable I feel compared with him’. This shows Heathcliff to be fairly unaccustomed to social activity and that he is probably content in his own company. Despite this he is described as ‘very intelligent’. This begins to build his character.
In the second chapter Emily Bronte uses the weather to reflect Heathcliff’s hostility. It is described as ‘misty and cold’ and eventually ‘suffocating snow’ falls. These weather conditions are often related to depression and gloomy atmospheres. The aim is to convey the idea of Heathcliff not wanting Lockwood to visit. Once more he is hostile. Yet Lockwood still visits which may hint at a possible more amiable side of Heathcliff
Once arriving at Wuthering Heights, Lockwood is presented with the challenge of the gate. The gate represents a barrier between Heathcliff and the world. It is a clear indication of his reclusive nature and possibly how he may be protective. The snow traps Lockwood in the house. This has gothic connotations in that he his confined and is forced into staying.
Bronte allows the readers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with Heathcliff from a younger age. Lockwood finds a diary of Catherine, his love interest. This diary is around twenty-five years old and so tells of Heathcliff’s childhood. We find out how Hindley, Catherine’s brother, is rude and brutal towards Heathcliff. The reader now feels sympathy towards Heathcliff. He is presented as a victim.
Nelly Dean is the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights and she tells the history of the house and events within and surrounding it to Lockwood who in turn narrates it to the readers. We learn that Heathcliff is an orphan from the streets of Liverpool. The reader is likely to sympathize with Heathcliff’s situation and possibly warm to him as a character. Nelly Dean recalls how he was a ‘dirty, ragged, black-haired child’. These adjectives create images of lower class, poor people. The reader is likely to further sympathize with Heathcliff when Nelly Dean explains how Hindley tyrannized him. Hindley ‘hated him’ and we learn that he gave Heathcliff ‘three thrashings’ in one week. He also threw a stone at him ‘hitting him on the breast’. This information is designed to make the reader side with Heathcliff and begin to despise Hindley.
Furthermore, Heathcliff’s growing relationship with Catherine leads the readers further into liking him. The two are described by Nelly as ‘very thick’ meaning almost inseparable. The readers are likely to want the relationship to succeed as is human nature, and so Heathcliff earns more respect.
Heathcliff is also presented using dialogue. Nelly Dean tells Lockwood what Heathcliff said, and he in turn narrates to us. By Heathcliff speaking for himself, we get a clearer picture of his character and emotions.
In chapter VI we find out more about Heathcliff’s character. He and Catherine get into trouble at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff shows loyalty and bravery by staying to help and fight off ‘snorting’ dogs. The Linton’s, who own the house, describe him on face value as an ‘out-and-outer’. People’s opinions and views are an effective way of presenting Heathcliff, yet they may not represent him truthfully or fairly.
Heathcliff’s character fits into the romantic genre well. Within romanticism there is a tendency to value feelings and emotions. In the first seven chapters we get an insight into his feelings about Catherine and Hindley. He deeply loves Catherine whereas he despises Hindley, vowing to seek revenge for the torment he threw upon him. Another factor of romanticism is a love of freedom. This comes in the form repression where Heathcliff is almost imprisoned by Hindley. He feels trapped. Bronte also shows an interest in childhood, another characteristic of romanticism. Much of the story is told when Heathcliff was a child.
Overall, Heathcliff is presented as an underprivileged child that continues to endure torment even after he gains a family of some description. He shows signs of credible personality characteristics that seem hidden when he is presented as an adult. It is at this stage when he comes across hostile and unlikeable. Bronte manages to form his character effectively through the techniques I have just described.