What usually comes to mind when one thinks of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights? Most will visualize tortured lovers against the extraordinary moors. Perhaps one will even recall the scene of one lover, Heathcliff, opening the grave of his Catherine to dig a space where they can be joined eternally. Yet another equally powerful emotion appears throughout the novel as an antithesis to love, that of revenge. Revenge first forms the basis of the actions of Hindley, the Earnshaw son, toward Heathcliff. Later revenge is mirrored in the vengeful actions of Heathcliff after he loses Catherine. In the process of gaining revenge, both characters lose their own humanity and their souls.
Hindley Earnshaw, the son and heir, reacts badly to his father's bringing home a stray gypsy boy from the streets of Liverpool and to demands that Heathcliff be treated like his own brother. Both Catherine, his sister, and Hindley refuse "to have it in bed with them, or even their own room" at night so that Heathcliff has to sleep on the landing outside (Bronte 41). While Catherine learns to love Heathcliff, Hindley spends his days in revenge toward the intruder, especially after Heathcliff becomes Mr. Earnshaw's "favorite" (42). Hindley's beatings of Heathcliff further alienate Mr.
Earnshaw, who is infuriated "when he discovered his son persecuting the poor, fatherless child, as he called him" (42). Hindley regularly beats Heathcliff and threatens to turn Heathcliff out in the cold when Mr. Earnshaw dies (43). When Heathcliff blackmails Hindley into swapping colts for the secret beatings, Hindley shows reasons for his jealousy toward Heathcliff, "Take my colt, gipsy, then, and I pray that he may break your neck, you beggarly interloper! And wheedle my father out of all he has" (43). When Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley returns from college to claim his inheritance, he takes his revenge unchecked.
"He drove him from their company to the servants, deprived him of the instructions of the curate, and insisted that he should labour out of door instead, compelling him to do so as hard as any other lad on the farm" (49). He also orders floggings for Heathcliff and deprives him of even speaking to Catherine, whom he loves dearly, after an adventure at the Linton. All these punishments Heathcliff could have stood except when he finally realizes that Hindley has made it impossible for Catherine to marry him. He overhears Catherine explain to Nelly, "If the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I wouldn't have thought of it [marriage to Edgar Lindley]. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now" (82).
Heathcliff now has been pushed to take revenge on Hindley and on all those standing in his way of gaining Catherine as a wife. Norman Sherry in Emily and Charlotte Bronte describes Heathcliff's revenge as being "not only an extension of the inhospitable treatment he received as a child in both houses, it is a revenge on the degradation in social terms which he suffered, and on the taking of Cathy from him" (121). The character Heathcliff has a high complexity to his revenge. After he comes back after his disappearance, he begins his road of vengeance. When he arrives, Heathcliff goes to visit Catherine at Thrushcross Grange, which makes Edgar jealous.
Edgar shows his disdain of Heathcliff saying, "He never struck me as such a marvelous treasure" (Bronte 95). Heathcliff has changed to a great degree. He is no longer the boy he once was; he has developed into a "tall, athletic, well-formed man," who is the envy of Edgar Linton (96). Over time, upon his return, Heathcliff begins to act more and more mysteriously. Nelly observes this change and declares that she is "determined to watch his movements" (107). Nelly has the right idea in watching Heathcliff.
On her next visit, Nelly discovers that little Hareton talks with vulgar language, and when asked about who taught him this language, Hareton explains, "I known't-he pays Dad back what he goes to me-he curses Daddy for cursing me. He says I mun do as I will" (110). Even though Heathcliff has shown an interest in Hareton, it is not for Hareton's good as he does not permit the tutor to teach Hareton, therefore repaying what was done to him as a child when he was kept ignorant. Heathcliff is also planning his revenge on Edgar Linton for marrying Catherine.
He tells Catherine that she has really hurt him by marrying Edgar, and Catherine says that Heathcliff should take his revenge out on her. Heathcliff replies to Catherine, "I seek no revenge on you. That's not the plan" (112). So, it appears that Heathcliff still carries a love for Catherine, but pure hatred towards everyone else. Denis Donahue explains that the revenge has taken on a much wider scope than the immediate characters who have mistreated Heathcliff to extend to "undermining the entire ruling order from within" (42).
In order to spite Edgar, Heathcliff takes his sister, Isabella, for a wife. Isabella and Heathcliff elope without Edgar's permission, and when they arrive home after their absence, Edgar disowns Isabella. Isabella is treated harshly when she arrives at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff acts as if she is an object to him.
In a letter to Nelly, Isabella says, "He [Heathcliff] told me of Catherine's illness, and accused my brother of causing it, promising that I should be Edgar's proxy in suffering, till he could get hold of him" (143). She also confesses, "I do hate him" (143). Heathcliff has completely dedicated himself to his plan for revenge, which involves everyone, innocent and guilty. After Catherine's funeral, everyone seems to be on edge, and then Heathcliff's revenge escalates.
Isabella visits Thrushcross Grange to talk to Nelly while Edgar is sleeping. Isabella tells Nelly how Heathcliff has treated her, "He's not a human being, and he has no claim on my charity. I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death, and flung it back to me" (168). She also comments on Hindley's decline in health. Hindley tries to stay sober for Catherine's funeral, but decides not to go, then sits down and drinks. The situation between Hindley and Heathcliff has gotten even worse over time.
One night when Hindley is drunk, he plans to shoot Heathcliff and informs Isabella of this plan, who in return informs Heathcliff. When Hindley is trying to carry out his plan, he is shot in the wrist by Heathcliff. Hindley dies a few months later, and when Nelly asks to take Hareton back with her, Heathcliff replies, "I have the fancy to try my hand at rearing a young one... I don't engage to let Hareton go" (182). Heathcliff proves that he is the owner of Wuthering Heights and "In that manner Hareton, who should now be the first gentleman in the neighbourhood, was reduced to a state of complete dependence on his father's inveterate enemy, and lives in his own house as a servant, deprived of the advantage of wages" (182). Heathcliff is now mistreating Hareton like Hindley once mistreated him as an extension of his revenge to the son even after the death of his enemy.
Isabella and Heathcliff eventually have a son, Linton Heathcliff, in whom Heathcliff shows no interest whatsoever. Heathcliff tells Linton, "Thou art thy mother's child, entirely! Where is my share in thee, puling chicken?" (200). Heathcliff continues his abuse of Linton and says to him, "Your mother was a wicked slut to leave you in ignorance of the sort of father you possessed," but then even goes on to say, "He's mine" as if Linton were property (201). Over time, Heathcliff shows a great hatred toward Linton, and will have nothing to do with him, although Linton is becoming sickly and frail. Heathcliff is really accomplishing his revenge plan by punishing the second generation of the story, even if his innocent son is the recipient of his cruelty. After Edgar's death, Cathy, Catherine and Edgar's daughter, comes to live at Wuthering Heights.
Linton and Cathy fall in love, and are married. Heathcliff is angered by this idea, but Cathy tells him, "You have nobody to love you, and, however miserable you make us, we shall still have the revenge of thinking that your cruelty arises from your greater misery!" (273). Heathcliff had not planned on Cathy having such a strong spirit, and even though he has inherited Thrushcross Grange by the marriage between Cathy and Linton, he still loses part of his revenge because Cathy will stand up to him. In return, Heathcliff deprives Cathy of the items she most covets, books. Over time, Heathcliff's health has declined, and he no longer wishes to carry out revenge.
He tells Nelly, "I can give them [Cathy and Hareton] no attention, any more" (307). Heathcliff dies, unhappy and lonely. Even though his revenge plan has worked to wreck many lives, revenge has done nothing for him personally but to cause misery. In the end, it is love that endures into the next generation and defeats the revenge of the older generation. Marianne Thromalen points out the place at which love is victorious in the novel, when Heathcliff sees Cathy teaching Hareton and they both look up at Heathcliff with the eyes of Catherine. Thormalen believes that "it does not seem overly sentimental to speak of love extinguishing the impulse to revenge" at this point of the novel (11).
Shortly after this, Heathcliff dies a alone, broken man, just as the other revenge-seeker, Hindley has done. What point is Emily Bronte making by having revenge as an antithesis of love? Perhaps she wants to show that in the end, love is the more enduring emotion. Hareton and Cathy endure and right the wrongs of the past in the end. Those that seek revenge in her novel may hurt others, even the innocents in the novel, but in the end vengeance-seekers die without satisfaction and without love. Though both Heathcliff and Hareton are both degraded and treated terribly as children, it is Hareton who is able to overcome revenge in his own heart and is rewarded by love.
Perhaps the Scripture of Romans 12: 19 best illustrates the lesson from the novel. "Revenge is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." A life full of vengeance destroys the one who plans it and carries it out as it does for Hindley and Heathcliff. It is only love that can overcome the evil of revenge. It is a shame that Heathcliff never realizes the true answer to terrible mistreatment as an antidote to revenge proposed by Diogenes Laertius. "Forgiveness is better than revenge." Works Cited Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights.
New York: Signet Classics, 1959. Donoghue, Denis. "I Am Not Heathcliff." New Republic 28 Aug. 1995: 42-43. The Holy Bible.
King James Version. New York: Nelson, 1998. Laertius, Diogenes. Pitta cus. iii.
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations 17 th Edition, New York: Little Brown, 1919. Sherry, Norman. Charlotte and Emily Bronte. New York: Arco, 1970. Thormahlen, Marianne. "The Lunatic and the Devil's Disciple: The Lovers in Wuthering Heights." The Review of English Studies 48 (1997): 183-185..