Heathcliff and Heathcliff: Two Different Men?

         After reading Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights and watching William Wyler's 1939 film adaptation, I was drawn to one thing; the contrast of the two Heathcliff. While reading the novel I felt disgusted with Heathcliff for always acting such a mongrel and never pitied him for not fully attaining Catherine's affection. Then while watching the film and watching Laurence Olivier portray him I felt differently; I felt compassion for him. One may think that just seeing a wonderful man, as Olivier, portray anyone may make one feel compassion, but I truly feel the screen adaptation took a different spin on Heathcliff's character.

         Throughout the book we are lead to believe that Heathcliff just is not right for Catherine, that, although her father had taken the boy in, she should not end up with him. We are shown every single one of his horrible qualities, while very seldom getting a peak at his affectionate side. We are shown this from mainly Catherine's point of view after she returns from living with the Linton's and she has a new upscale way of life. She says countless things to him about being dirty and a nobody in the social standings.

         In the film we are told the story quite the same; but, in being able to visually see Heathcliff as a child, we begin to feel compassion for him, as we can see how abused and starved for love he is when he (Rex Downing) arrives with Mr. Earnshaw (Cecil Kellaway). We also can see the hatred that Hindley (Douglas Scott) has for Heathcliff. We become saddened that his childhood, although he has been taken in by the Earnshaws is good, is full of rough times and very little love. Once they are grown and Hindley (Hugh Williams) becomes head of the household, he makes Heathcliff work for him. Here we see, in Olivier's eyes the sadness and longing for affection from his only love, Catherine (Merle Oberon). Then when Catherine returns from living with the Lintons one can tell Heathcliff wants to do nothing more than to please her and be with her.

         I feel that it is important for audiences to both read the novel and watch this adaptation of the film to really grasp all the characters, especially Heathcliff, from every angle. To be able to understand the characters wholly one can really begin to understand the depths of this story.

Alichia Sawitoski

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