Wuthering Heights Victim vs. Victimizer
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Readers often pity literary characters who play the role of a victim. In Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Heathcliff: an outsider brought into the wealthy Earnshaw family, Hindley: the eldest Earnshaw child with a strong dislike for Heathcliff, and Hareton: the orphaned child Heathcliff takes in to raise, are victims, yet they evolve to perpetuate the abuse they suffered. Being able to be or become a victim or victimizer show the complexity of these characters.
Emily Bronte manipulates readers to pity Heathcliff, Hindley, and Hareton, in spite of the hideous pain they inflict on others. John Hagan states, “Wuthering Heights is such a remarkable work partly because it persuades us to forcibly pity victims and victimizers alike”. Though the reader is aware of the crimes against others at the hand of the abuser, the fact that the perpetrator was once a victim himself bore sympathy.
Jealousy fuels Hindley’s hatred for Heathcliff. Hindley’s father, Mr. Earnshaw favors Heathcliff, an orphan found on the streets of Liverpool, over his son. Hindley’s sets out to make his adoptive brother’s life a nightmare. Heathcliff threatens to tell Mr. Earnshaw about the abuse he has been receiving from Hindley if he does not trade horses with him. Hindley says to Heathcliff, “be damned you beggarly interloper! and wheedle my father out of all he has; only afterwards show him what you are, imp of Satan” (Bronte 32).
This shows Hindley’s abusive behavior and unnecessary brutality. However, his victimizing personality is a result of the lack of attention he received from his father. Belittling Heathcliff is a way to cope with the emotional hurt he experienced as a child. Hareton, Hindley’s son, becomes a victim of his father’s violence and addiction to alcohol and gambling, which is a result of his wife’s death, Frances. Abuse of alcohol causes this behavior and Hareton is almost dropped from a stairwell as a result. As Hindley holds his son over the banister in a drunken rage, he says, “As sure as I’m living, I’ll break the brat’s neck” (Bronte 58). Hindley cannot control his rage, and Heathcliff feeds on this weakness.
As the novel progresses, he loses various bets to Heathcliff, causing him to lose his property and possessions. Now, Hindley is indebted to Heathcliff, causing him to hate Heathcliff even more, which make him drink more. In response to his loss, he says, “I will have it back; and I’ll have his gold too” (Bronte 110). The shift from victimizer to victim is a change Hindley cannot handle, yet the reader can understand and develop a sympathetic attitude towards his character.
He becomes obsessed with the idea to kill Heathcliff, yet due to his lack of wealth and stature among the other characters, he can never follow through. Hindley’s transition from victimizer to victim is one of Emily Bronte’s methods to make the reader, “condemn the sin, but pity the sinner”. The roles have been reversed, leaving Hindley, the original master, with the same status as a servant, and Heathcliff, once an orphan, with the master title.
Heathcliff, a victim of both society and Hindley, seeks revenge against his abuser, Hindley, and becomes the victimizer. Before Heathcliff is introduced to the Earnshaw’s, he is a victim of society. He was homeless and abandoned on the streets of Liverpool. With his dark skin and, “dirty, ragged, black [hair]” (Bronte 29), Heathcliff is categorized as an outsider and dismissed as an inferior. Hindley torments Heathcliff out of jealousy for his father’s attention. “Hindley threw [an iron weight, used for weighing potatoes and hay], hitting him on the breast, and down he fell” (Bronte 31).
The abuse Heathcliff endures as a child is never forgotten and drives his desire to become master of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff’s brutality towards his wife, Isabella is a result of the heartbreak from Catherine. After she marries Edgar Linton, Heathcliff seeks revenge on Edgar for taking the love of his life and marries his sister, Isabella. In a letter to Ellen, she writes, “Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?” (Bronte 106). Isabella questions Heathcliff’s humanity, revealing that Heathcliff uses his pain to fuel the harm he inflicts on others.
Hareton Earnshaw, a victim of Hindley, Heathcliff, and Cathy, stands up for himself, shocking the reader’s perception of his character. Hareton is a victim of his father’s alcohol abuse and gambling addiction. These addictions are a result of Frances’ death and the reader becomes sympathetic towards Hindley; however, Hareton is the innocent victim affected by the lack of care from his father. Hareton is a toddler when Hindley holds him over the railing of a staircase, threatening his life. Once Hindley dies, Heathcliff takes on the responsibility to care for young Hareton. He does not know that he is being used as part of Heathcliff’s plan to get revenge on Hindley for abusing him as a child.
Heathcliff wishes to keep Hareton ignorant and uneducated in an effort to degrade him. When describing Hareton, Nelly, the house servant, says, “He appeared to have bent his malevolence on making him a brute: he was never taught to read or write; never rebuked for any bad habit which did not annoy his keeper; never led a single step towards virtue, or guarded by a single precept against vice” (Bronte 152). Hareton is a victim to society because he is kept an uncivilized and ignorant young man. The reader feels sympathetic towards him because he is made to be an inferior and is raised to be nothing more than a servant. The mistreatment Hareton receives from Cathy, Catherine’s daughter whom he develops strong feelings for, cause him to victimize her out of self-defense.
Cathy insults Hareton, calling him “dog-like” and reminding him of the time she made fun of his attempt to learn how to read. When Cathy hands him a book, Hareton, “flung it off, and muttered, if she did not give over, he would break her neck” (Bronte 237). His behavior towards Cathy is a result of the mental abuse he has received from her. Hareton stands up for himself and no longer wishes to take insults that make him feel inferior. The reader gains a level of respect for Hareton due to his bravery and determination to establish himself as a well-respected man.
His entire life, Hareton is used as a pawn in the game of revenge among Heathcliff, Hindley, Linton, and Cathy. Bronte’s ability to manipulate the reader’s perception of various characters is exceptional, allowing each reader to develop their own opinions about the end of the novel. Hindley, Heathcliff, and Hareton possess the roles of both the victim and victimizer. Throughout the novel, the reader watches the evolution of the three characters based on their actions and reactions to various events and develops opinions.
Heathcliff, a victim of society and his stepbrother Hindley, turns into an abusive man seeking revenge. Hindley, a brutal figure filled with hatred for Heathcliff, ironically, loses his property and wealth to him in a series of bets. Hareton, a victim of every resident of Wuthering Heights and the Grange finally defends himself against Cathy’s cruel words. Emily Bronte’s manipulates the reader to neither admire, nor defend these characters, but to, “give [them] our utmost sympathy”.
Brontë, Emily, and Richard J. Dunn. Wuthering Heights. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002. Print. Hagan, John. JSTOR. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.