A theme that is explored by Victorian author, Emily Bronte, is the cyclical nature of abusive relationships. From the moment Heathcliff is first brought to Wuthering Heights, he is mistreated by his older brother, Hindley Earnshaw. Hindley Earnshaw physically and verbally abuses Heathcliff out of pure jealousy. Their father, Mr. Earnhaw, puts Heathcliff on a pedestal much higher than his siblings, a precipitant to Hindley’s jealousy. Since Hindley grows up in a hyper-masculine society, he is compelled to push Heathcliff off the pedestal on which he proudly stands. The rowdy interactions between the brothers were more than a push and shove. Throughout their childhood, Hindley harasses Heathcliff based on a perceived status as an outcast to the family. A memorable quote of Hindley is “And I pray that he may break your neck…only afterwards show him what you are, imp of Satan.” This would explain why Nelly summarizes the young Heathcliff as “a sullen, patient child: hardened, perhaps, to ill-treatment.” Heathcliff’s childhood certainly had an impact on the way he later contributes to the cycle of an oppressive society.
The harassment that Heathcliff receives is damaging to his self-esteem and relationships with others. This trauma becomes a tool in which Heathcliff torments Hareton Earnshaw, Hindley’s son. Hindley’s mother dies when he is very young and his father succumbs to the evils of alcoholism. Hareton’s life becomes dictated by the brute force of Heathcliff’s intolerance towards him. Flashforward to the next generation of the estates’ inhabitants and Nelly provides an account of the brutality faced by Hareton. Heathcliff claims that his parenting of Hareton far exceeds the ability of the drunkard Hindley. To be fair, Hareton gains more attention from Heathcliff as a father, even if it is not tender loving care. However, the ugly side of an oppressed individual (Heathcliff) is demonstrated in his attitudes. Heathcliff boldly claims, “I’ve taught him to scorn everything extra-animal as silly and weak. Don’t you think Hindley would be proud of his son, if he could see him?” Clearly, Heathcliff feels that revenge must be enacted upon Hindley. The best way to do so is to take advantage of his son and validate it as “helping” him. In reality, Hareton is just stuck in a vicious cycle to which he has no control over. Nelly is distraught by these claims and gives the reader her own two cents. She states, “I began to dislike, more than to compassionate Linton, and to excuse his father, in some measure, for holding him cheap.” She is blaming the cycle of a dysfunctional and oppressive family for the life it provided Hareton. Many of the characters are victims of this cycle, but each one has a slightly different story.