Heathcliff is another character with seemingly Romantic qualities who destroys the Romantic ideal. Oates writes, "Heathcliff's mockery makes us aware of our own bookish expectations of him, for he is defiantly not a hero... Bronte's wit... is supreme, for she allows her 'hero' to define himself in opposition to a gothic-romance stereotype she suspects her readers... cherish" (Oates 4). Heathcliff speaks of Isabella like this: " 'The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog; and when she pleaded for it the first words I uttered were a wish that I had the hanging of every being belonging to her, except one... But no brutality disgusted her... I've sometimes relented, from pure lack of invention, in my experiments on what she could endure, and she still creeps shamefully cringing back!'" (Bronte 149) This, Oates intimates, could refer also the reader, who keeps expecting that Heathcliff is really good, and therefore keeps wishing for him to evolve into the Byronic hero: strong, kind underneath his nasty exterior, harboring a dark secret. Indeed it seems that he has all the requirements down; in his past, where he was a foundling of unknown origin--perhaps the son of an Emperor of China, as Catherine says--who has usurped a father's love. There is an almost fairy tale quality in his past. Then of course there is his physical description--darkly handsome--and his love for Catherine, which at times makes his character almost human. And while Heathcliff does perhaps have a reason for his anger--his mistreatment as a youth, and Catherine's marriage to Edgar because of ambition--it is not an excuse. He is far too cruel to ever be a true hero, and Bronte knows it. No matter what romanticizing may be done about his character, he remains terrible. Another Romantic value, melancholy, is also twisted by his character. He allows his melancholy to overtake him, eventually leading to his death. One of the most poignant moments in the novel is when Heathcliff rushes into Lockwood?s room to search for the ghost of Catherine:
He got on to the bed, and wrenched open the lattice, bursting, as he pulled at it, into an uncontrollable passion of tears. 'Come in! come in!' he sobbed. 'Cathy, do come. Oh do--once more! Oh! my heart's darling, hear me this time--Catherine, at last!' (Bronte 28-29)
His pain is palpable, and for one of the few times in the novel, the reader is able to feel sympathy for him. As the end of the novel draws near, however, this melancholy over Catherine's death has driven him mad: "He muttered detached words, also; the only one I could catch was the name of Catherine, coupled with some wild term of endearment, or suffering; and spoken as one would speak to a person present--low and earnest, and wrung from the depth of his soul" (Bronte 329). His death is seen as a good thing for the people of the Heights--as release from tyranny--but is not a good thing overall. Instead of Heathcliff leading a better life or even resting in death, he wanders the Earth, unable to rest in peace. His fatal melancholy is another sign of Bronte disvaluing a Romantic ideal.
Wuthering Heights and the Rejection of Romanticism