Devil in Disguise

     In Emily Brontė's 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, it is not only common to find orphans on the side of the road, but it is fully acceptable pull them onto your horse and carry them home as if the orphan were some sort of new family pet. As is customary to name the family pet, the one who finds the orphan has full right to name it. The family cannot argue with any of this, either the keeping of the pet/child or conjecturing about what their thoughts on what its name should be, even if the kid is clearly the spawn of Satan. This was only the beginning for the character Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights: evil, abandoned, and poorly represented in the 1939 film adaption, directed by William Wyler.

     Upon exploring this character, one must pose a series of questions. For one, who the hell leaves a kid on the side of the road? Obviously, there must be a good reason for it. Perhaps the parents cannot afford the child, or maybe it smells really bad; or, in the case of Heathcliff, the child could be a vicious demon that fell asleep while guarding the gates of hell.

     Like any other cursed artifact, the one who removes it from its reliquary, violating its sanctity, will die shortly after. Mr. Earnshaw's death was not only obvious and imminent but also clearly a result of Heathcliff's rest being disturbed. Thus, his departure for the conquest of Wutherng Heights was underway.

     Here I should note that it is a common misconception that Emily Brontė's novel is a love story. I see it more as a prophetical tale of a beastly creature's drive to overtake everything it can. Heathcliff's preoccupation with Catherine is yet another example of his manipulation and sinister bout to control his surroundings. One may also argue that he would only use her to carry his wretched seed in the case of his untimely demise. Her love for him is explained simply; Catherine's love for Heathcliff spurred as result of lack of a better option.

     William Wyler's film does not share this view. In the film, Heathcliff is portrayed as a victimized stable boy, whereas Brontė shows him to be a soulless creature. The audience feels pity when Rex Downing, who plays Heathcliff as a boy, is scorned, beaten, and stoned across his forehead. The only scene to suggest Heathcliff's true nature is the scene where he is stoned. In biblical times, stoning was a method of casting out demons. The audience should cheer when little Hindley Earnshaw (Douglas Scott) dutifully attacks the monster, but sadly the film leads one to believe that Heathcliff is the victim.

     His inextinguishable passion for Catherine, followed shortly by her own death, torments him for years. She represents the only prize he would not win. However, as we watch the film, we are meant to feel sorry for this monster, glamorized by Laurence Olivier's performance. On the other hand, one must read Brontė's novel to know the truth of this devil in disguise.

Brandon Smith

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