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To what extent do we feel sympathy towards the character of Heathcliff?

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Introduction

To what extent dowe feel sympathy towards the character of Heathcliff? By Rebecca Westwood Heathcliff through out 'Wuthering Heights' is a very secluded character. He is introduced as a seven-year-old orphan, probably an Irish famine immigrant. Mr.Earnshaw brings him back to Wuthering Heights. His story, in the words of Nelly Dean, is a "cuckoo's story", his presence in Wuthering Heights overthrows the rightful role of the rightful heir, Hareton. The reader's sympathies towards Heathcliff change at different stages, at one point feeling angry with Heathcliff for being so cruel, and then the next feeling sympathetic for his treatment. This talent of Bronte's keeps the reader undecided on Heathcliff, even at the end of the novel the argument exists on whether we as the reader do and should feel sympathy towards Heathcliff. Even on the first night of Heathcliff's arrival he caused jealousy and resentment. He being the reason that Mr. Earnshaw breaks the toys that he has brought for the children. Nelly recorded 'From the very beginning he bred bad feelings in the house'. Heathcliff usurps the affections of Mr. Earnshaw to the exclusion of Hindley-: 'The young master had learnt to regard his father as an oppressor rather than a friend.' However, just because Hindley is jealous and striving for attention this does not mean it was Heathcliff's fault that Mr. Earnshaw felt favour towards him. In another incident Mr. Earnshaw gives both Hindley and Heathcliff a colt. When Heathcliff' colt goes lame he threatens to blackmail Hindley if he does not swap with him. He then vows 'I'm trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back,' he continues 'I don't care how long I have to wait, if only I can do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!'. From the beginning Heathcliff has interrupted a calm family and turned affections upside down, although Hindley is not completely welcoming to Heathcliff the reader can understand him being threatened by a stranger. ...read more.

Middle

This is what becomes very important to Heathcliff later, when he tries to marry into the Linton family, to have Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. When he returns with wealth he is still seen as a lower class. On his return Edgar remarks, 'What, the gypsy- the ploughboy?' This is a typical view of Heathcliff that cannot be changed by wealth. The reader feels very sympathetic for Heathcliff at this point as he was even prepared to change his wild ways and become a sophisticated man for the love of Cathy. Heathcliff then uses Linton to try and gain property. He has no fatherly feelings but is just using his son. His main consideration lies in calculating whether Linton lives long enough to marry Cathy so acquiring Thrushcross Grange-; 'We calculate it will scarcely last 'till it's eighteen.' Once the marriage has taken place, Linton's life is seen as worthless to Heathcliff-; 'His life is not worth a farthing, and I won't spend a farthing on him.' Linton like Isabella has just become a pawn in Heathcliff's revengeful game, sympathy is lost for Heathcliff when he can treat others like this. He continues this abuse of Linton when calling his mother a 'slut' in his presence. A great reason for the reader to feel contempt towards Heathcliff would be his treatment of Cathy. He blames her for Catherine's death, 'He cursed you, I dare say, for coming into the world (I did, at least.)' He continues to treat Cathy horrifically. He wants to marry Linton to Cathy so arranges for him to meet her and beg her to accompany him to Wuthering Heights by telling her he is scared of Heathcliff. 'With streaming face and an expression of agony, Linton had thrown his nerveless frame along the ground; he seemed convulsed with exquisite terror.' When Cathy does accompany her cousin Heathcliff imprisons Cathy with Nelly. ...read more.

Conclusion

Eyes are seen as windows into the soul, this is supported by Dorothy Van Ghent who has 'famously argued the various windows and barriers serve both to separate and connect polar opposites: inside and outside; human and ghost.' Also, this could apply to different eyes for the Earnshaw's, 'the Earnshaw's handsome dark eyes' and Linton's. 'vacant blue eyes of the Linton's'. Heathcliff being described as a 'typical Gothic Protagonist' means the reader must feel sympathy towards him, as this is a critical ingredient. He is dark, demonic, mysterious and cruel, with his dwelling of Wuthering Heights echoing his personality. He has a mysterious past, often compared to a demonic figure, 'lying fiend', with typical dark hair, eyes and features. The final quality needed being in spite of his cruelty and destructiveness, he generates a degree of sympathy. After never being taught love, being abused and losing his loved ones, Catherine and Mr. Earnshaw, who the only people to ever show him affection it could be claimed that Heathcliff could not be blamed for the way he was. The passionate and violent environment shaped him into the fiend that he was. However, this can only be an explanation to a certain extent. When Heathcliff returns after his three-year absence he has become a super-human villain driven by revenge. This later Heathcliff is callous with incapacity to love and eventually being consumed with hatred and revenge. In summing up every individual reader will decide on his or her own opinion of Heathcliff, the argument is so balanced it is impossible to judge. Perhaps he is innocent and tortured of love out of his control, but the argument then falls onto the innocent characters such as Isabella and Cathy. Emily Bronte manages with great complexity to keep the compassion of the reader up and down. She manages to transform Heathcliff from a villain to a victim in a chapter, which keeps the character alive; otherwise he may have come across as desperate and then monotonous. Heathcliff is a character of depth and complexity and cannot be judged, therefore the sympathy of the reader varies so much. ...read more.

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