A Byronic hero is defined by Thomas B. Macaulay according to The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford University Press, New York, 1985) as proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart... implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection. This definition fits the main character Heathcliff in Emily Bronte s Wuthering Heights.
Heathcliff is also a man who has sinned in his life, a man who lives to find revenge, and, yet, a man who the reader is (at times) capable of feeling sorry for. For these reasons, Heathcliff is a perfect example of a Byronic hero. One finds themselves feeling sorry for Heathcliff from the beginning of the book. Heathcliff arrives at Wuthering Heights as a boy after having been orphaned.
Immediately the young gypsy finds himself being picked on by Hindley, who feels like he is competing with Heathcliff for his father s attention. From the very beginning, however, Heathcliff is described with such words as dark and a fiend. Nonetheless, the boy was picked on badly by his stepbrother throughout his early years at Wuthering Heights. As he advances in age, the young man falls madly in love with Catherine, his stepsister. Despite his love, however, Catherine eventually gets married to a man, named Edgar Linton, who had more money and statue. Heathcliff he deeply hurt by this, and never recovers.
After Catherine s death, he turns even worse and begins to abuse all of those around him. His misery and cruelty spreads to everybody within his reach. Many years later, Heathcliff dies a lonely and sad man. Heathcliff spends much of his time considering different ways he can get revenge on those who have hurt him. He wants to find revenge in two ways.
The first way is by hurting the children of those who hurt him. For example, he is quite cruel to Hare ton Earnshaw, the son of Hindley. In fact, Heathcliff even regrets having saved Hare to after he was tossed off a balcony by his father, who was drunk. The second method that Heathcliff uses is to take control of the land and possessions of those who had harmed him. This means that he has a goal of seizing both Wuthering Heights and Thrush cross Grange, lands owned by Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton, respectively. Despite his many glaring faults, the reader is somehow able to sympathize with Heathcliff.
Most people know what it is like to be made fun of and hurt as children, and can understand how someone might seek revenge after such a difficult upbringing. Likewise, many people have experienced heartbreaking losses, as Heathcliff has, and can empathize with the pain he feels. Thus, his actions may be cruel, and they may be immoral, but many readers can excuse them as partially justified based on Heathcliff s history. Therefore, it can be concluded that Heathcliff is a Byronic hero since he fits the major criteria. First of all, he has experienced great misery and pain in his life. This pain stems from a difficult childhood and the loss of his one true love to another man, and to death.
Second, Heathcliff seeks revenge on the pain he has experienced in his life. Thirdly, despite the faults that Heathcliff has in his character, the reader is able to sympathize with him, to a point. While in the second half of the book Heathcliff becomes increasingly cruel, to the point of inexcusability, during the first half his actions can frequently be dismissed as somewhat justifiable under the circumstances. For these three reasons, Heathcliff can be easily categorized as a Byronic hero.