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Heathcliff is better known as a romantic hero, due to his love for Catherine Earnshaw, than for his final years of vengeance in the second half of the novel, in which he grows into a bitter, haunted man, and for a number of incidents in his early life that suggest that he was an angry and sometimes malicious individual from the beginning. His complicated, mesmerising and altogether bizarre nature makes him a rare character, with components of both the hero and villain.


Heathcliff was created by Emily Brontë for her 1847 novel Wuthering Heights.

Character Evolution

Hes has stayed the same for most of his adaptations except some change the ending of his fate.

Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff is a fostered gypsy who loves Catherine, but she wants what she thinks is best for her future, but not for her heart and soul.

A dark-skinned gypsy foundling discovered on the streets of Liverpool and raised by the Earnshaw family of Wuthering Heights in Yorkshire, Heathcliff's past and early childhood before his mysterious adoption are not explored by Brontë. In keeping with the supernatural themes present in the novel, it is speculated that Heathcliff might be a demon or a hellish soul. His appearance would be faithfully interpreted as resembling a Roma, or gypsy. He becomes a gentleman "in dress and aspect." Mrs. Linton of Thrushcross Grange states that he could be a "little Lascar or American castaway."

A silent and at first solitary child, Heathcliff is initially resented by both Catherine Earnshaw and her elder brother, Hindley; whilst Catherine later befriends and loves Heathcliff, Hindley continues to resent him, seeing him as an interloper who has stolen his father's affection. Upon Mr. Earnshaw's death and his inheritance of the estate, the spiteful Hindley proceeds to treat Heathcliff as little more than a servant boy and makes him work the fields, which creates Heathcliff's lifelong anger and resentment. Catherine, however, remains close to her foster brother.

As she matures into her young teens, however, Catherine grows close to Edgar Linton, a timid and well-bred young man of the neighbouring estate, Thrushcross Grange, and accepts his proposal of marriage; but she insists that her true and only love is Heathcliff. She claims that she cannot marry him because it "would degrade her" and that the two would be beggars were such a union to take place. Nevertheless, she also declares her passion for him in such ways as "whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same," and the famous quote "I am Heathcliff." Aware only of Catherine's decision to marry Edgar, rather than her proclamation of true love for him, a bitter Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights upon overhearing her saying that it would degrade her and while away, by means unknown, makes his fortune.

Nelly Dean describes him as "athletic" when he returns, and that his "upright carriage suggested his being in the army." No other hints are given about where Heathcliff was and how he made his fortune over the course of his three-year absence. On returning, he is ruthlessly determined to destroy those who degraded him and prevented him from being with Catherine, cementing his status as an anti-hero, rather than a romantic, hero. Not only does he swindle Hindley, who has fallen into alcoholism and gambling after the death of his wife Frances, out of his ownership of Wuthering Heights; he heartlessly takes advantage of Edgar Linton's sister Isabella and marries her, before treating her in a cruel and contemptuous fashion. Although he tells Catherine that he despises Isabella and would "cut (his own) throat" if he imagined Catherine wanted him to marry Edgar's younger sister, his and Isabella's marriage promises to result in his inheriting Thrushcross Grange on Linton's death. This can only be achieved, however, by Heathcliff's forcing his and Isabella's son Linton into marriage with Catherine's daughter, who is also named Cathy.

After Catherine Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff's vindictive cruelty intensifies, aimed at destroying not only his enemies but also their heirs — Hareton, son of Hindley and Frances Earnshaw, and Catherine, daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine the elder. He forces his sickly son, Linton, who entirely resembles his mother Isabella, into marriage with Catherine Linton, daughter of Cathy and Edgar, in a bid to gain control of Thrushcross Grange. Shortly after the two are married in their nearly loveless match, the insipid Linton dies, hardly a surprise to either his father or his widow. Heathcliff treats Catherine with relative mercy, turning her into a cold, distant creature, far removed from the bright, lively girl she used to be. Hareton and Catherine eventually fall in love, however, and their relationship in some ways mirrors and in others opposes that between Heathcliff and the elder Catherine. Their union breaks the cycle of hatred at Wuthering Heights, and Heathcliff no longer cares to continue his vendetta. Hareton, resembling his aunt Catherine Earnshaw much in looks, creates a sense of uneasiness for Heathcliff: Brontë often implies that he has a secret regard for Hareton, and that Hareton sees Heathcliff as his true father. The novel ends with the death of Heathcliff, who has become a broken, tormented man, haunted by the ghost of the elder Catherine, next to whom he demands to be buried. His corpse is initially found by Nelly Dean, who, peeping into his room, spots him. Heathcliff grows restless towards the very end of the novel and stops eating. Nelly Dean does not believe that he had the intention to commit suicide, but that his starvation may have been the cause of his death. He wanted to be with Cathy in eternal life.

The implication is that Catherine, having earlier haunted Mr Lockwood at his window, has made a similar visitation on Heathcliff, bearing him away with her so that they may be together beyond the grave, which has long been Heathcliff's aspiration. Nelly relates his revealing admission:

At the very close of the novel, a servant boy tells Nelly that he has seen the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine walking the moors together, although Nelly and Lockwood both insist that they must be treated as if their souls were at peace. The novel closes with Lockwood wandering past their graves and wondering "how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."


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