In any version of the book Wuthering Heights, written in 1847 by Emily Brontë, Heathcliff is a character without morals and does not care about the consequences. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word "heath" as "evergreen plants that thrive on open barren usually acid and ill-drained soil; especially: an evergreen sub shrub of either of two genera with whorls of needlelike leaves and clusters of small flowers." Looking closer at this definition, one can see just how similar Heathcliff is to the heath plant in the 1939 movie version, directed by William Wyler of Wuthering Heights that the class watched.
When Heathcliff (Rex Downing) was first introduced, one's first response is to feel sorry for him. He was abandoned by his parents and had no one to care for him when Mr. Earnshaw (Cecil Kellaway) found him. Growing up, Heathcliff is loved very deeply by Mr. Earnshaw and Catherine, Mr. Earnshaw's, daughter (Sarita Wooten), and Heathcliff's one true love, but hated by Mrs. Earnshaw and especially Hindley, Mr. Earnshaw's son (Douglas Scott). The hatred of Heathcliff by Hindley only makes Mr. Earnshaw protect Heathcliff even more, which adds more animosity between Hindley and Heathcliff. It appears as if Heathcliff thrives on the animosity and the way Hindley treats Heathcliff, where this treatment would leave many young people without a will to live, much like the way in which the heath thrives on acidic and ill-drained soil, soil that would kill most other plants.
As Heathcliff grows older, he realizes the many things that he can get away with because of the deep love of Mr. Earnshaw. Mr. Earnshaw does not question what Heathcliff does, which becomes a major issue because Heathcliff uses that deep love against Hindley at every chance he can get. All Heathcliff cares about is Catherine and getting revenge on as many of the people he hates as he can. As an adult, now played by Laurence Olivier, he even marries Isabella, Edgar Linton's younger sister (Geraldine Fitzgerald), someone he does not love just to get revenge on Edgar, Catherine's husband (David Niven), for treating him badly so many years before. Heathcliff does whatever he wants to get revenge. The one soft spot Heathcliff has is for Catherine (now portrayed by Merle Oberon), his one true love. Catherine is the cluster of small flowers in the evergreen shrub for Heathcliff, where all the revenge that Heathcliff seeks is the needle-like leaves. Heathcliff's love for Catherine is a true love, but it allows his need for revenge to take over his entire life.
Heathcliff could have lived a warm and happy life if only he would have let himself. He just could not let the people who wronged him go without punishment. This not only hurt him and many innocent people along the way; but also, I think, mostly hurt Catherine, his one true love. In the end, Heathcliff got what he wanted, an eternity with Catherine, but at the cost of many of the characters' happiness and well-being.