A Victim of His Environment

March 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Wuthering Heights, author Emily Bronte depicts Heathcliff, one of the main characters, as an incarnation of evil. Heathcliff is first introduced in the novel as the unpleasant, unwelcoming landowner of Wuthering Heights, and from this first impression, it is easy to believe that Heathcliff has possessed his evil qualities from birth. However, it is revealed later that Heathcliff has an extensive history with Wuthering Heights, and that there is evidence from his younger days that he was not originally a wicked person. Although it is believed by some that Heathcliff is evil by nature, Heathcliff, in all actuality, exhibits evil qualities such as ingratitude, cruelty, selfishness, and revenge purely as a result of the environment he was raised in and the manner in which he was treated by the other residents of Wuthering Heights. In order to fully comprehend the extent of Heathcliff’s immorality during the better portion of Wuthering Heights, it is best to first examine proof of Heathcliff’s original, untainted behavior. When Mr. Earnshaw first brings Heathcliff home, it is mentioned that Mr. Earnshaw found him “good as dumb, in the streets of Liverpool, where he picked it up and inquired for his owner — Not a soul knew to whom it belonged” (35). The insignificant past of Heathcliff that is barely touched upon in the novel symbolizes how Heathcliff receives a clean slate when he is brought into the world of Wuthering Heights. It is only after Heathcliff’s initiation into the sophisticated world that his corruptness begins to unravel. Even though it is established that Heathcliff is poor and a gypsy of sorts, he still conducts himself in a civilized manner upon arriving at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is described as a “sullen, patient child,” (36) and he initially behaves better than Catherine, Hindley, and Nelly Dean, which is ironic because of their cultured upbringing compared to that of the gypsy boy.Although Heathcliff is most certainly an innocent being at first, the harsh environment of Wuthering Heights, fostered mainly by the actions of Hindley, quickly instills a change in his personality. From the moment Heathcliff enters the doors of Wuthering Heights, he is immediately bombarded with feelings of contempt and unwelcomeness. Mrs. Earnshaw’s reaction was nothing short of disgust. “Mrs. Earnshaw was ready to fling it out of doors: she did fly up- asking how he [Mr. Earnshaw] could fashion to bring that gipsy brat into the house, when they had their own bairns to feed, and fend for? What he meant to do with it, and whether he were mad?” (35). Mrs. Earnshaw’s revulsion towards Heathcliff causes him to immediately feel unwanted and unwelcome in his new home. Mrs. Earnshaw’s reaction also sets a negative example for her children. After seeing the way in which their mother treats the new guest, Catherine and Hindley promptly aid in making Heathcliff feel as unwelcome as possible. Catherine’s initial feelings for Heathcliff are that of disgust (although they later change drastically), and she demonstrates this by spitting on him. Nelly Dean acts inhospitable as well, making sure that Heathcliff is restricted to the landing on the staircase for his sleeping accommodations. Of all the characters in the novel, Hindley treats Heathcliff the worst and therefore is the most responsible for Heathcliff’s transition to evil. Hindley’s cruel behavior stems from the jealousy he feels toward Heathcliff because of the affection that Mr. Earnshaw so willingly bestows upon him. Hindley beats Heathcliff while Mr. Earnshaw is still living and reduces him to the likes of a stable boy when Mr. Earnshaw dies. This inhumane treatment is one of the main reasons that Heathcliff in turn treats others inhumanely in the later years of his life.Even though the primary damage to Heathcliff’s personality is done at an early age, there are circumstances later in his life that contribute to his overall embodiment of evil. One of the more notable events to provoke a cruel disposition in Heathcliff is when he overhears Catherine contemplating marriage to Edgar, a neighbor of high social and financial status. Heathcliff overhears Catherine say to Nelly Dean, “it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff, now, so he shall never know how I love him” (80). What Heathcliff overhears causes him to be ashamed of his social standing (or lack thereof) and, ultimately, to run away from Wuthering Heights. When Heathcliff returns years later, he is evil in its fullest form and bent on revenge, because of the pain and suffering he experienced in his younger days. After examining Heathcliff’s earlier life, it is apparent that he was not cruel as a young child and that the actions of others had a devastating impact on his behavior. Because of the proof that Heathcliff was originally not evil by nature, combined with the destructive environment of Wuthering Heights and the events that occurred there, it is apparent that Heathcliff did not possess his evil qualities from birth. Rather, Heathcliff’s evil qualities, such as ingratitude, cruelty, selfishness, and revenge, are a reaction to the malevolent environment he was raised in. In the dramatic, whirlwind world of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is merely a victim of his surroundings. Works CitedBronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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