Heathcliff is the main character of Wuthering Heights. He has a complex personality, which can be interpreted differently. Often Emily Brontë’s character is referred to as a Byronic Hero. Heathcliff is a villain associated with the devil. Nevertheless, he is charming and charismatic. He is full of passion, and that attracts the reader.
The idea of Byronic Hero emerged from Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818). Byron’s character is a romantic hero who lives in an imperfect world and suffers because of it. He does bad things in the name of the greater good. With time Byronic Hero became an archetype for many literary characters. Usually, it is someone mysterious and intelligent. The character should be charismatic but cynical and selfish at the same time.
Byronic Hero is an antihero in the first place. However, his charms make him attractive to the reader. Heathcliff is the protagonist of Wuthering Heights. He is a complex and intriguing character that brought worldwide recognition to Brontë’s novel.
Through the course of the book, it becomes evident that Heathcliff is a classic Byronic Hero. At first glance, he is a prideful man who brings misfortune to those around him. Heathcliff’s wife Isabella wonders if he is human at all. The man is a prisoner of the past. He holds grudges and is driven by vengeance. Heathcliff’s past remains a mystery to the reader.
Heathcliff is arrogant and makes others suffer. Hareton Earnshaw is the one to suffer the most. Thanks to Heathcliff, the boy grows up in a gloomy and cruel environment. Even though he comes from a noble family, he grows up rude and does not receive a proper education. Hareton still sees Heathcliff as his father and loves him dearly.
Until the end of the novel, the persona of Heathcliff is somewhat mysterious. He is an outcast, withdrawn from reality and fixed on himself. He dwells on the past and his tragic love. His love for Catherine is obsessive. Heathcliff is a Byronic Hero whose life is ruled by emotions. His passionate nature attracts the reader, but at the same time, destroys his own life.
Originally Heathcliff is more of a positive character. The young Heathcliff is different from the grown-up man he becomes. The circumstances of his birth and how the people around treated him make the boy pessimistic and gloomy. Constant bullying made Heathcliff vindictive:
However, there are also moments when the man opens his heart and shows his vulnerable side. Heathcliff has the capacity to love with all his heart. He hides those human feelings deep inside. Were his circumstances different, Heathcliff might have been a better man. The Byronic Hero is someone who refuses to accept the cruel reality. That reality, however, shapes him and turns him into an antihero.
Brontë uses a unique psychological formula to create the character of Heathcliff. Later on, this same formula is used in many famous literary works. The Byronic Hero continues to evolve and exists in many works of pop culture.