“…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.