When we watch William Wyler's 1939 film version of Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights on the big screen, we can almost see Martin Dies fuming, especially if he had read the book. In the book a reader can kind of see the outline of a Marxist hero in Heathcliff. He is a talented man who is brutally held down due to class snobberies. However, in the end his behavior to all those around him, including those who had nothing to do with his abuses, makes him so the reader cannot truly sympathize with him. This paper will focus on how the movie changed the character of Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) to make Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) more sympathetic.
In the book it is impossible to justify Heathcliff's behavior towards Isabella. Her only crime against Heathcliff is being related to Edgar, and all she does to deserve his disdain is love him. In the book her stay at his house is a horror show with no affection displayed. He does not even set up a room for her. All he ever does is scream and insult her in an attempt to get some revenge by destroying her.
In the movie though there are two pivotal scenes that seem to soften the viewers' reaction to Heathcliff's behavior. The first is the scene in which Catherine (Merle Oberon) tries to dissuade Isabella from her attraction to Heathcliff. In the book it is clear that Catherine is doing this for Isabella's own good, and Isabella is being irrational. In the movie Catherine is all dressed up with a crown as if she is the personification of upper-class oppression. Because of the way Catherine acts and looks, Isabella's rejoinders that she is only jealous and harming Heathcliff's chances at happiness with her, Isabella, sting a great deal more.
In the other key scene, while Isabella is living with Heathcliff, she makes one attempt for his love, something that never happens in the book. While she is holding him, offering him hope, he cannot even look at her, a sign of some remorse. And all he can say is a comparison to his idealized memory of Catherine: "Why does your hair not smell of heather?" The point of the scene is clear. Heathcliff could love Isabella, but his entrancement by the snob Catherine is holding him back.
There are many more examples of the movie adding touches, and changing others to make Heathcliff more sympathetic. By the end it is hard not to find him to be the most sympathetic character in the book, much more so than Catherine and any of her snobbish sort. Thus, there is no doubt Heathcliff is a full Marxist hero.