Heathcliff and “The Cry of the Children”

Poor Heathcliff. I’ve read Wuthering Heights once before and have always felt the most sympathy for his character, though it’s hard to root for any of the characters in Bronte’s novel wholeheartedly. As Nelly’s flashback narration begins and we learn more about Heathcliff’s childhood, I am reminded of “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning because of its portrayal of children in Victorian England. In Chapter 4 of Wuthering Heights, Mr. Earnshaw brings the young, orphaned Heathcliff home from the dirty streets of Liverpool. He is immediately seen as a threat by Catherine Earnshaw’s brother, Hindley, as well as everyone else who comes in contact with him save Cathy and her father.

In Browning’s poem, a sorrowful scene is painted of the conditions under which poor Victorian children live, and indeed it seems as though Heathcliff came from such a background–However, I see the strongest connection between Heathcliff and the poem in Heathcliff’s treatment due to his race. Hindley calls Heathcliff a “gipsy” and “imp of satan”, with both comments being racially-motivated and meant to knock Heathcliff down a few rungs in the social order. This hearkens back to Browning’s poem in the sense that both texts are dealing with the mistreatment of children, though Wuthering Heights delves into the racial aspects and “The Cry of the Children” focuses on hardship brought on by poverty. Clearly, unless one came from an upper’class background and had the world handed to them on a silver platter, live for kids in the Victorian era, whether they lived in a big city of the countryside, was gritty and miserable.

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