Wuthering Heights - What do we learn about the character of Heathcliff in this extract? (Chapter 15, vol.2, page 284-288)

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Rob Williams

                        Wuthering Heights: Exam Practice

1.        What do we learn about the character of Heathcliff in this extract? (Chapter 15, vol.2, page 284-288)

        This extract whilst confirming and extending many of the character traits that we have previously seen in Heathcliff, also presents us with other sections of his persona that have not been revealed before in the novel. We see more examples, perhaps the most grotesque yet as it is dealt upon an innocent child, of his sadistic nature, yet we also learn of his pain and suffering inflicted on him by the dead Catherine.


The younger Catherine hurts Heathcliff acutely in her naïve (but correct)  criticism of him. She says that she would rather be the weak-willed Linton than Heathcliff, and says

“No-one loves you-nobody will ever cry for you, when you die! I wouldn’t be you!”

This condemnation is too close to the truth for Heathcliff, her innocence penetrating his dour, misanthropic exterior, and in return Heathcliff says, “You shall be sorry to be yourself presently.” Here we get an indication of the suffering that Heathcliff will inflict on the younger Catherine later in the novel. His sadistic nature is coming to the fore, the only way that he can relieve his pain later is the torture and imprisonment of Cathy, indeed he says to Nelly “…that lass (Cathy)  owes me her services for her bread; I’m not going to nurture her in luxury and idleness…” 


The suffering that he feels, we see from this section, is due to his separation from Catherine, this we already have learnt, yet we learn that the only relief from the anguish is his belief that at death he will merge with Catherine by being buried next to her.  The grotesque, almost necrophilia act of Heathcliff climbing into Cathy’s grave to hold her once again, in his own words “gave some ease to myself”.  This repulsive, sickening act in a strange contradiction brings out the softer side to Heathcliff, a relief of his suffering and purging of his anguish, he says,

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“A sudden sense of relief flowed, from my heart, through every limb. I relinquished my labour of agony, and turned consoled once, unspeakable consoled”

We realise that Heathcliff’s anguish, as his love was, is outside the bounds of rational human behaviour. It transgresses the boundary between life and death, the only relief for him is in a world beyond human, a life with Cathy.  His wish to merge with Cathy upon his death shows us the reason for his total melancholy and suggests he is simply waiting for his earthly death. Yet he acknowledges that must not perish ...

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