The Ruthless and Heartbroken Byronic Hero: Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
A boy with a troubled past emerges into a cynical, evil miscreant named Heathcliff in the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The novel depicts Heathcliffs struggle with his own identity, hardships from his childhood, and issues with following his hearts desires. Bronte describes the endeavor of characters attempting to discover love, yet their encounters with failure throughout their journey. The story, created in the Romantic era, frames Heathcliff as a selfish yet perceptive Byronic hero to teach how behavior like his can leave people to face the hardships of their decisions. Bronte establishes Heathcliffs Byronic traits to communicate her message that the hearts need for attention and compassion can immerge to self-destruction.
Bronte introduces Heathcliff as an outsider in his childhood to begin her characterization of him as a Byronic hero. He is typically an outlaw, most certainly an outcast or outsider he provides an outlet for vicarious expressions of power and independence (Stein). The Byronic hero follows a set of characteristics to mold him into this type of perplex and cynical man, and it sprouts from his childhood in Heathcliffs case. The abandonment and trouble he suffers through as a child contributes to Brontes purpose towards his overall downfall. Mr. Earnshaw adopts Heathcliff into his family and illustrates a starving, and houseless, and as good as dumb child that once moved in, automatically bred bad feeling in the house (Bronte 37-38). Heathcliff briskly emerges as an outcast when moving to Wuthering Heights, making him lonely and looking for any connection possible. The neglect he endures eventually motivates his plan of revenge against his adoptive family that did him wrong.
Heathcliff faces emotional conflicts while being seductive trying to connect with his love, Catherine. Lord Byrons Byronic hero portrays the characterization of having a dark, generally mysterious past and a certain, powerful kind of attractiveness the women the hero surrounds himself with are inexorably drawn to (Douglass). Heathcliff fits this description as he becomes infatuated with Catherine after his difficult childhood with her and learning he cannot live without her love. However, he doesnt end up with his true love as she marries another man, Edgar. He continues attempting to connect with her, yet distances as overhears heartbreaking news. Heathcliff listens to Catherine confess her thoughts to Nelly till he heard Catherine say it would degrade her to marry [Heathcliff], and then he stayed to hear to further (Bronte 80). All he aspires to do is be with his soulmate, yet his dreams fall apart as she shares her embarrassment she would dwell in if she felt the same way as him. She chooses Edgar over Heathcliff due to the economic and social benefits he can offer in comparison to the dismal life she would dwell in if marrying Heathcliff at the same. This sparks a motivation of revenge for Heathcliff as he plans to go against the people in Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange that contributed to his suffering.
Heathcliffs arrogant behavior evolves towards his own collapse through abusing his power and eventually comes to the conclusion he lives in misery. Hindley passes and his son Hareton now has to suffer living with Heathcliff: He lift[s] the unfortunate child on to the table and mutter[s], with peculiar gusto, ?Now, my bonny lad, you are mine! And well see if one tree wont grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it (Bronte 183). Heathcliffs erotic behavior reveals his hurt he felt between his adoptive family and separation from Catherine and expresses it through his mistreatment towards Hareton. He deliberately tries to have everyone around him suffer, fitting the arrogant behavior a Byronic hero displays. He continues his downfall and eventually comes to the revelation that his life is miserable and theres no escape from all of the damage he has imposed on society. Heathcliff faces repercussions of his actions when Cathy, Edgar and Catherines daughter, confronts him and lashes out, Mr. Heathcliff, you have nobody to love you You are miserable, are you not? Lonely, like the devil, and envious like him Nobody will cry for you when you die! (Bronte 277) She forces Heathcliff to register all of the pain he has placed on the individuals around him. even if he didnt notice how many people he affected with his arrogant and miscreant behavior. His self-destructive demeanor has allowed Heathcliff to be isolated in his later life. No matter all of the riches he gained by manipulating the relationship surrounding him, nor the social bridge he climbed up can compare to how he would feel if he had the one thing he desperately wanted, Catherine. He now has to face the consequences of his reprehensible actions and live the rest of his mournful life in isolation.
Bronte employs Heathcliff as a Byronic hero to establish how the hearts desire for affection can lead to complete downfall. Heathcliff becomes desperate for affection and believes that life without love isnt worth living as he proclaims, Oh you cared nothing for my sufferings Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as Im living; you said I killed you- haunt me then I cannot live without my soul! (Bronte 165) He begins his fall towards destruction when he declares that he cannot live without Catherine. Bronte purposely incorporates his failure to appreciate the world around him due to his distraction of love to share her overall message about the destruction of love. The lost Byronic hero learns that he put himself in this destructive position in the closing of the novel and concludes, When everything is ready and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished! I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing (Bronte 312). Heathcliff has grown and finally comes to the conclusion that violence doesnt help any situation, his true desire is love. This difficult journey throughout his life and his sufferings were all caused by his desire to have Catherine. Bronte connects Heathcliff to a Byronic hero in order to prove that his life has no worth due to the treacherous path he fell down for love and demonstrate how affection can be so strong it can drive individuals mad.
Bronte develops Heathcliff in her novel as a Byronic hero to support her message that the longing for love can push people to immaculate downfall and defeat. Bronte creates Heathcliff in this way to also incorporate her childhood experiences into her literature by combin[ing] her considerable reading and singular experiences with elements of Romanticism to write about life on the Moors (Haden). Bronte intends to describe her troubles throughout her life by building up Heathcliff into this mysterious and villainous character that strives to undermine the characters around him.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Ellis Bell, 1847.
Douglass, Caroline Rosemary. The 21st Century And the Rise of the Byronic Hero. Odyssey. 27 Dec. 2016. The Odyssey Online. 3 Sept. 2018.
Haden, Mary Elizabeth. Aspects of the Byronic Hero in Heathcliff, thesis, August 1970; Denton, Texas. University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library,
Stein, Atara. The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009. Project MUSE.