Violence within Victorian Institutions

As the story continues, the most interesting character I find within Wuthering Heights is Heathcliff. The combination of Heathcliff’s unique upbringing, contrasted against the upper-class world of wealth within Victorian society makes him into a powerful antagonist. Additionally, at moments his cruelty stands out in a cast full of selfish figures. I found Heathcliff to represent figures of power within both “England in 1819”.

Heathcliff’s roots are not in the upper class, yet he has found himself there, reigning over Wuthering Heights. His weaponization of Victorian societal rules such as marriage and familial connection displays how oppressive this society truly was. In class, we discussed how there was “a large amount of violence” within Wuthering Heights. While there is a large amount of physical violence, particularly surrounding Heathcliff, the actions within the text that do the most lasting damage is his abuses of power within the “rules” of Victorian society. The opening lines of “England in 1819” brings up imagery that makes one think of Heathcliff and Linton.

“An old, mad, blind, despis’d, and dying king,

Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow’

Of course, the connection between a king and a prince. Additionally, Linton being sickly paints him to be a much less capable “dreg” than his father. But connecting Heathcliff and his son to positions of nobility highlights more concepts of upper-class society. Heathcliff uses his son as a tool to further his influence, pushing for a marriage that will simply further his means to revenge. Its an action of the political nobility, using his position of power at Wuthering Heights to gain more.

Heathcliff in many ways is a villain of two worlds. His roots contrast with his elevated upbringing later in life, yet he terrorizes those around him utilizing both. He physically fights those around him, but as he learns he realizes that he does lasting damage with the weapons of the upper class. The most damaging blows he did to Edgar were in his actions to marry Isabella, rather than the physical violence he inflicts. His most effective forms of violence against those he felt wronged him he learned within the Victorian world, utilizing methods of revenge that are more subtle and accepted.

I think another interesting element of this is when considering Heathcliff’s trajectory through the novel. His acts of physical violence are often cruel, but they mostly seem to come from situations of high tension or emotion. His slow and calculating plots in the second half of Wuthering Heights come from a Heathcliff immersed in the upper-class society. I suppose a question to consider is whether or not the rawer physical violence that seemed to always be with Heathcliff evolved into his actions later on in the story, or whether it was the culture itself that taught Heathcliff to abuse his power.

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