Post-Colonialism in Wuthering Heights

“…He’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man” is what Catherine Linton says about her supposed friend to her sister-in-law in Emily Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights (Brontë, 103). This isn’t the first instance in the novel where the male lead, Heathcliff, is described as inhuman. Throughout the novel, Heathcliff has shown that he is a detestable person, but so have other characters. For instance, Hindley Earnshaw shares many of the same qualities as Heathcliff, but is not described in the same dehumanizing way. 

Class and racial distinctions provide an easy explanation for this phenomenon. Heathcliff eventually gains a large amount of wealth, but he doesn’t start off that way. When he is kidnapped from Liverpool, he is seen as an orphan. His parentage and ancestry is unknown. As well, he is described as having a darker complexion, implying that he is not English. Roger Luckhurst speaks on this matter in his introduction of the book Late Victorian Gothic Tales. He describes a fear of the other that plays a role in many gothic novels. Heathcliff is that other. With his unknown origin, he is seen and described as a mysterious, un-English creature. 

Catherine isn’t the only character to describe Heathcliff this way, though her words tend to be harsher than others. When he is first brought to Wuthering Heights, the entire Earnshaw family other than the father instantly dislike him. Once Mr. Earnshaw dies, he is cast out and verbally abused by Hindley. These actions are what lead to Heathcliff’s negative behavior. It is highly doubtful that he would act this way if he was treated with kindness as a child rather than contempt. The Earnshaw’s contain colonialist attitudes so much so that even though Catherine considers Heathcliff her closest friend, she continues to call him things such as “an unrefined creature” and claim that he is “without cultivation” (Brontë, 102). These beliefs are the reason Heathcliff has such a detestable personality.

3 thoughts on “Post-Colonialism in Wuthering Heights”

  1. I think examining Wuthering Heights through a post-colonial lens as you did offers a lot of insight into the reason Heathcliff, despite being one of many horrible people in the novel, is the only one dehumanized. In my post, I wrote about how Catherine acknowledges her former self as “half-savage”, a term similar to the multitude used to dehumanize Heathcliff. I think it’s likely that she only uses this description because she associates her childhood with her relationship with Heathcliff, whom she sees as a definitive savage.

  2. I think this a really interesting close reading of that scene. When I first read that scene, the only thing going through my mind was “what is happening?” but what you said in your post makes a lot of sense and I think you are right in how it connects to the way Heathcliff is dehumanized. I am curious to see if there are any other characters who relate to Heathcliff like how Catherine did, especially Linton and Hareton.

  3. This analysis definitely makes sense as to why Heathcliff is portrayed as other throughout Wuthering Heights. I think it’s interesting to compare Heathcliffs inhumane representation to the characters of Mary Barton, where we can always point back to class structure as the root of the conflict. In Wuthering Heights I feel like it’s more subtle as the characters have gothic elements and are doing more, so Heathcliff’s “wolfish” representation in the story can be circled back to his other flaws, not just his lower class status.

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