Man or Monster?

        After reading the 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, and watching its 1939 cinematic adaptation, directed by William Wyler, I have realized that the character of Heathcliff was portrayed very differently in the two versions.

        In the novel Heathcliff is shown as a heartless creature who lives only to gain revenge on those who have hurt him in the past. While reading the novel, I found myself void of even an ounce of pity for this man who has let hate consume his heart. An example of this is the way he uses Isabella not only to hurt Edgar and to eventually become master of his home, but also to torment Catherine, the one he supposedly loves. Of course, he pretends to love Isabella but soon abandons any effort to even pretend that he can stand the sight of her after they are married. He becomes very cruel in his treatment of Isabella, and she soon finds the courage to escape him and raise their son by herself.

        In the cinematic adaptation of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is still portrayed by Laurence Olivier as a man who lives only to destroy the lives of everyone around him; however, the movie seemed to try to show the human, not just monstrous, side of him. Once when Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) is pleading to Heathcliff for just one chance to let himself love her, I actually saw pain in his eyes. For a moment I felt sorry for this man. I am sure that the pain he shows is not out of love for Isabella, but out of his own misery. Either way, I caught a glimpse of a man, not just a monster.

        I am sure that Emily Brontë's goal was to create a character that had lost every bit of his humanity. I must admit that she did a wonderful job. I even found myself hating Heathcliff because of the way he hated. However, the movie, maybe because of the censorship laws at the time it was made, seemed to let Heathcliff retain a small portion of his humanity. For whatever reason, I thought it worked very well. I actually became involved in the movie; unlike the novel, which made me so disgusted I just wanted to throw the book out the window. But maybe that was the reaction Emily Brontë was looking for.

Lynnsey McGarrh

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