Heathcliff is a character who inspires different reactions at different points in the novel. Sometimes we are sympathetic, sometimes not.

A dominant figure

Heathcliff dominates all around him, causing fear in most. He is manipulative of people and situations, particularly as he has developed the ability to control his reactions. As he works his revenge out, he is certainly willing to wait for his chance to act. However, he is helped by his ability to seize opportunities which come along, as much as by having a carefully worked-out plan from the start.

The outsider

Heathcliff is mysterious. We do not know his background nor where he goes to make himself wealthy, nor do we ever really understand him as a character. He is an outsider, never accepted by most of the people of the area, and this gains him some sympathy from the reader.

We see him as a victim as well as a villain. As a child, he is sullen, but his love for Catherine provides him with some happiness, especially when the two of them are out on the moors together. However, when she too appears to reject him, he becomes increasingly alienated from the norms of his culture.


One of the central questions about Heathcliff is the extent to which he should be judged as innately vicious or regarded as the product of vicious treatment. Widely described as a demon, is this due to his nature or nurture?

According to Catherine, who knows him best, Heathcliff is:

an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation: an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone…he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man. (Chapter 10)

The use of nature imagery highlights the idea of his ‘natural’ savagery.

Certainly Heathcliff seems to have an obsessive personality and, just as his great love for Catherine had been obsessive in its own way, so his desire for vengeance also becomes all engrossing.

Heathcliff disregards the people he uses as tools in his revenge. His treatment of Isabella is possibly his worst action. She does not deserve his cruelty. He also scorns his own son, Linton, despite having exacerbated some of his worst characteristics. He brings up Hindley’s son to be as degraded as possible, yet in this instance displays some regard (even empathy) for Hareton, seeing elements of himself in the uncultivated lad. It is only Hareton, at the end, who mourns Heathcliff’s death.

Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.