Table of Contents

“Why Do We Like Heathcliff?”: 
A Consideration of Narrative Desire 
and Wuthering Heights

Sarah Magin

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The character of Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is cruel, malicious, and detestable. Yet, readers and critics like Heathcliff and find themselves apologizing for and justifying his malevolent nature. This paper is an investigation into the inconsistency of how Heathcliff is portrayed and how the reader feels about him; how it is that the appalling becomes appealing. First of all, the narrative structure of Wuthering Heights establishes a significant distance between the reader and Heathcliff, which allows the reader to feel safe enough not to fear him. In addition, because of the mystery surrounding him, Heathcliff is a blank slate upon which the reader projects his or her own desires. This type of projection allows readers and critics to excuse his actions. However, distance and projection do not provide a thorough explanation for the reader’s insistence to like Heathcliff. In order to fully understand why readers are inclined towards Heathcliff, I turn to Peter Brooks’ theory of narrative desire. This theory holds that the act of reading a text is informed by the reader’s sexual desire and death instinct. Through an analysis of Heathcliff’s sexual desire and death instinct, I illustrate how the reader’s desires are coextensive with Heathcliff’s desires. Because of this, the reader is unable to separate Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff, and the sexual desire for reading becomes a sexual desire for Heathcliff. This is why, in spite of his dreadful portrayal, readers and critics alike have a soft spot for Heathcliff.
    From beginning to end, Heathcliff is portrayed as a fierce, devilish and inhuman being. Upon his introduction to the Earnshaw family, Mr. Earnshaw declares he is “as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (Brontë 34). Later, Heathcliff’s new bride Isabella asks, “Is Mr. Heathcliff a man?…is he a devil?” (136). She also asserts that Heathcliff has a “devilish nature” (172). Nelly questions Heathcliff’s nature when she wonders, “Is he a ghoul, or a vampire?” (330). At other points in this text, he is referred to as a “hellish villain” (138, 175), “Judas” (111), “diabolical” (179), “that devil Heathcliff” (286), “a wicked man” (239), a “ruffian” (274), and “a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man” (102). At Heathcliff’s death, Joseph thanks the lord and cries, “Th’ divil’s harried off his soul” (335). To say the least, Heathcliff is clearly described as a deplorable character.
    Throughout this book, Heathcliff commits horrible acts and displays despicable behavior. When Heathcliff accidentally saves Hareton’s life, he expresses “intense anguish” and regrets that he did not assist Hareton’s death (74). Before running off with Isabella, Heathcliff leaves Isabella’s dog hanging “suspended to a handkerchief” (129). Heathcliff then marries Isabella, not for love, but in order to “provoke Edgar to desperation” (152). He makes Isabella miserable through his unkindness and ultimately “snatched a dinner knife from the table and flung it” at her head (181). Heathcliff is also responsible for the death of Hindley, but not before he has conned Hindley out of his money and property. Although Heathcliff denies responsibility, Joseph swears that Hindley “warn’t deed when Aw left” and only died when alone with Heathcliff (186). In addition, Heathcliff abuses and beats Hareton down to a “reduced” state (187). Using his son Linton as bait, Heathcliff traps young Catherine and Nelly in Wuthering Heights. When young Catherine begs to be released in order to see her dying father, Heathcliff refuses and states, “I shall enjoy myself remarkably in thinking your father will be miserable” (274). He then forces young Catherine to marry the dying Linton. As Linton’s condition worsens, Heathcliff refuses to send for a doctor and declares, “his life is not worth a farthing, and I won’t spend a farthing on him” (292). Through this neglect, Heathcliff is largely responsible for his own son’s demise. Furthermore, Heathcliff violates Cathy’s grave twice. This is, by no means, a comprehensive account of Heathcliff’s malicious disposition; but an attempt to illustrate how his cruelty is both severe and extensive.
     As presented, Heathcliff’s actions ought to be enough to prove him “unredeemed,” as Charlotte Brontë offers in her preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights (qtd in Drew 368). Yet, the reader’s reaction to Heathcliff is inconsistent with his depiction. Critics and readers tend to excuse and justify his actions. Each critic seems to supply a new reason to sympathize with Heathcliff and grant him a saving grace. As Philip Drew questions, “Why, in short, have critics responded so readily to Heathcliff as the hero of the novel and paid so little attention to his more conspicuous qualifications to be considered a villain?” (372). Drew fails to answer this question when he concludes that Heathcliff is “Emily Brontë’s achievement […] to arouse our sympathy for a lost soul” (380). With this, Drew sympathizes with Heathcliff rather than delve into an explanation. Edgar F. Shannon provides that “Heathcliff is the victim instead of the originator of evil” (103) and excuses his brutalities for the reason that “Wrong issues only from the occlusion of love” (104). For Shannon, Heathcliff’s love for Cathy is his redemption. Shannon even attempts to lessen Heathcliff’s bad reputation by pointing out his favorable behavior towards Lockwood. Heathcliff “provides Lockwood with a glass of wine, tea, and dinner on separate occasions,” “sends him a brace of grouse,” and “chats amiably” with him for one hour (104). Yet, these niceties are nothing when compared to Heathcliff’s astonishing record of malevolence. A contemporaneous review of Wuthering Heights emphasizes Heathcliff’s love for Cathy over his cruel behaviors when it favorably remarks, “The anguish of Heathcliff on the death of Catherine approaches to sublimity” (The English Novel 196). What is clear is that critics like Heathcliff and are determined to defend him, even though there is little textual evidence to support these reactions.
    The reader’s affinity for Heathcliff can be partly explained by the narrative structure of Wuthering Heights. For the structure of this novel distances the reader from the characters. This story is not told directly to the reader, but through Lockwood’s account of Nelly’s oral rendition. In addition to the distance produced by the dual narration of Mr. Lockwood and Nelly, David Galef holds that “The written as opposed to the spoken word” is a “method of distancing,” for “the printed page involves more intermediate steps than does oral articulation” (243). In this way, the fact that the entirety of Wuthering Heights is told through Lockwood’s journal entries brings this book even further from the reader. This distance between the reader and the story of Wuthering Heights entails a distance between the reader and Heathcliff.
    The significance of distancing the reader from Heathcliff becomes apparent in John Fraser’s hold that distance goes hand in hand with safety. “When one is safe from another person,” as Fraser explains, “it is easy enough to be tolerant of him” (225). This is clear in Galef’s comparison of Lockwood and Isabella, which notes how Isabella’s reaction to Heathcliff is more aggressive than that of Lockwood. This is because “Isabella is not allowed to step away from her crisis, as Lockwood is” (Galef 246). The different amount of distance in the relationships between Heathcliff and “the bride” Isabella, and Heathcliff and the “tenant” Lockwood accounts for their diverse responses (Galef 246). As Heathcliff’s wife, Isabella lives in the same house as Heathcliff and is exposed to his abominable behavior” on a daily basis (Brontë 181). It is her closeness to Heathcliff that causes her “abhorrence” and fear (145). Isabella describes her fear of Heathcliff when she writes to Nelly, “a tiger or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in me equal to that which he wakens” (145). Lockwood’s more accepting view of Heathcliff is due to his distance from Heathcliff. As his tenant, Lockwood spends little time in Heathcliff’s presence and is therefore safe from Heathcliff’s brutality. The only time that Lockwood remains at Wuthering Heights for more than a couple hours ends with him screaming angrily at Heathcliff, declaring, “I am now quite cured of seeking pleasure in society” (26). Galef closes his article by stating that, “only the figure capable of remaining apart, like the artist, survives” (249). This comment is significant in its proposal that the concept of safety through distance can be applied outside of the text. Fraser also recognizes this potential when he refers to the “safely distant reader” (233). Not just the other characters, but the reader too benefits from being distanced from Heathcliff. This is why the reader, like Lockwood, is able to emerge unscathed; while Isabella is so heavily injured.
     But distance only explains why readers don’t fear Heathcliff; not why they make excuses for his actions. John Allen Stevenson makes claims about the love affair between Heathcliff and Cathy, which can shed light upon the reader’s relationship with Heathcliff. As Stevenson provides, Heathcliff’s “opacity is the key” to understanding their love (67). Heathcliff’s opacity stems from the fact that very little is actually known about him. His background, age and racial origins are uncertain, and his three-year absence is never even partially explained. Upon both his introduction to Wuthering Heights and his return, Heathcliff seems to appear out of nowhere. At his introduction, Mr. Earnshaw produces young Heathcliff out of his “great-coat” (Brontë 34) and while he “tried to explain the matter” (35), neither Nelly, the Earnshaws, nor readers ever understand how Heathcliff came to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff’s return is also mystifying. When he calls out to Nelly, she is both surprised and frightened because she “had seen nobody on approaching the steps” (92). She finally sees “Something” in the night’s darkness “moving nearer,” but is unable to distinguish who it is (92). Finally, “A ray fell on his features” (92) and Nelly exclaims “What! you come back? Is it really you? Is it?” (93). Even after seeing the face of a man she has known for years, Nelly still requires his affirmative response to be sure that the stranger before her is in fact Heathcliff. The mystery surrounding Heathcliff incites numerous unanswerable questions. The best the other characters or the readers can do is make baseless speculations and hypothetical guesses.
     It is the mystery and uncertainty surrounding Heathcliff that cause him to become, as Stevenson notes, “a blank screen, ready for Catherine…to fill with an image of [her] own creation” (71-72). What this means is that Cathy projects upon Heathcliff the image of what she wishes to love. Stevenson notes that Cathy is not the only character who projects upon Heathcliff; Nelly, Mr. Earnshaw and Isabella respond to “his blankness” as well (Stevenson 71). Like these other characters, readers too project their own desires onto Heathcliff. It is through Heathcliff’s own words that this kind of projection is best explained. Although speaking specifically of Isabella, Heathcliff’s observation “so obstinately has she persisted in forming a fabulous notion of my character, and acting on the false impressions she cherished” could easily be applied to the other characters and the readers (Brontë 150). Because there is so much about Heathcliff that is unknown, the reader is able to form their own version of him that satisfies their own demands. This conviction also explains the critics’ tendency to form their own sympathetic images of Heathcliff; for the critic too is a reader that creates and acts upon “a fabulous notion” of Heathcliff (150).
    Yet I hold that there is more than distance and projection that draws the reader to Heathcliff. As I will soon establish, readers like Heathcliff because they sexually desire him. But in order to fully understand this connection, one must first understand Peter Brooks’ theory of narrative desire and how it reveals a parallel between reading and sexual desire.
     Brooks builds his theory upon Freud’s discussion of man’s basic instincts, specifically the pleasure principle and Eros. For our purposes, it is only necessary to understand Freud’s theories in the most simplistic of terms. The pleasure principle is the force within us that works for the “ production of pleasure”(Freud 1). Since “the greatest pleasure attainable by us” is “that of the sexual act,” the pleasure principle is constantly compelling us towards sexual gratification (86). Eros too is a force that impels us. Although Eros, “the preserver of life,” (73) incorporates many concerns, it is fundamentally preoccupied with “the sexual instinct” (71). This sexual instinct of Eros is the sex drive that, like the pleasure principle, causes us to seek sexual satisfaction. What is clear from Freud’s convictions is that he places sexual desire as central to the forces that drive us. In Brooks’ theory of narrative desire, he takes this belief that sexual desire guides our actions and applies it specifically to reading. He is essentially using psychoanalytic theory to give insight into the way readers approach text. Instead of seeing the act of reading simply as a recreation or an escape from reality, Brooks provides that it is enthused by sexual desire. As Brooks explains, “Desire is always there at the start of a narrative, often in a state of initial arousal, often having reached a state of intensity such that movement must be created, action undertaken, change begun” (38). What this means is that when readers begin a narrative, there is a sexual charge that impassions them and makes them want to read further. In this way, narrative desire is the force that drives us to read. Because the desire to read is sexually based, the very act of reading is a sexual act in which readers are active participants.
    If reading is a sexual act, then it is also a seduction. Throughout the entirety of Wuthering Heights, readers are enthralled and excited by the story, but always anticipating the climax. In this way, the text holds a type of sexual power over readers. This is clear in the language that we use to speak about books and reading. To say that you are ‘captivated,’ ‘enchanted’ or ‘mesmerized’ by a text acknowledges that the text is in control over your emotions. Also, the fact that such phrases as ‘nineteenth-century literature is my passion,’ ‘I adore this book’ or ‘I’m in love with Emily Brontë’ are easily understood reveals how narrative is largely accepted as a seductress. The ease with which such metaphors of love and sexuality are applied to books also indicates how apt Brooks’ theory really is. Because Wuthering Heights is essentially the story of Heathcliff, readers are being seduced by the story of Heathcliff. The way in which Wuthering Heights is the story of Heathcliff is clear in the plot structure of this work, which begins with his arrival and ends with his death. Also, as Anne Williams acknowledges, “Heathcliff is the only character in Wuthering Heights […] who is prominent in both halves of the narrative” (116). Because this book is so centered on Heathcliff, the readers’ seduction belongs entirely to Heathcliff.
     In order to fully comprehend Brooks’ theory of narrative desire, we must once again turn to Freud’s discussion of Eros. Eros, which Brooks uses as a basis for narrative desire, is “subtended by the death instinct, the drive of living matter to return to the quiescence of the inorganic, a state prior to life” (Brooks 51). What this means is that the death instinct, man’s desire for death, is connected with man’s sexual desires. In this way, the forces that drive us are based not only upon sexual desire, but also the desire for death. As Freud declares, “the aim of all life is death” (qtd in Brooks 102). In Brooks’ application of Freud to text, the desire for death becomes a “desire for the end, for that recognition which is the moment of the death of the reader in the text” (Brooks 108). This is clear in reading Wuthering Heights, where readers anxiously await the novel’s conclusion. What is significant is that readers want the book to end. The desire for the end is dependent upon readers’ desire for meaning and understanding. Brooks relies upon Walter Benjamin’s hold that “only the end can finally determine meaning” (22) to make his point that the reader’s desire for meaning is “ultimately, inexorably, desire for the end” (52).  The way in which death and the end are interconnected is clear in Wuthering Heights, where the end of the text is the death of both the reader and Heathcliff. With this, Brooks introduces another complexity to narrative desire, which is informed by both sexual desire and the death instinct. For the sake of a proper understanding of narrative desire, it is important to clarify that sexual desire and the death instinct are more than two facets of a larger concept. They are parallels that serve each other in a way that makes their aim, or culmination, impossible to separate (107). What this indicates is that reading a text, sexual desire, and the death instinct are all inextricably connected in literature.
     Another important aspect of narrative desire is that the reader’s desire for the end is a desire for “the right death, the correct end” (103). This is because, as Freud says, “the organism wishes to die only in its own fashion” (qtd in Brooks 102). Readers’ desire for the end must be achieved only in the correct way, and the end is not correct if it comes too quickly, or in the improper manner. The correct ending takes time. If the end is not properly developed over time, then it will “short-circuit,” and be unsatisfying to the reader (Brooks 102). For example, an improper ending in Wuthering Heights would be if Heathcliff kills himself the night of Cathy’s death. Heathcliff must only die and the story must only end eighteen years later. It is for the sake of the correct end that “fulfillment must be delayed so that we can understand it in relation to origin and to desire itself” (111). The idea that the proper end must be developed and achieved over time further illustrates the parallels between reading, sex, and death because all of these benefit from “a pleasuring in and from delay” (103). A pleasuring from delay exists in the structure of Wuthering Heights, which features an eighteen-year-long subplot about young Catherine. As Brooks provides, “The subplot stands as one means of […] assuring that the main plot will continue through to the right end” (104). Any ending prior to this subplot would simply not work because both the death of Heathcliff and the end of the text must be delayed until they can be properly culminated.
    A consideration of Wuthering Heights in regard to narrative desire is especially profitable because it helps to explain the presence and importance of young Catherine’s subplot. Critics, such as William R. Goetz, are committed to discerning the relation between the story of Cathy and Heathcliff, and young Catherine and Linton. In his attempt, Goetz breaks this novel into two halves and analyzes the second half as an adulteration, repetition and correction (Goetz). What Goetz fails to understand is how the second half is actually a subplot that fosters and necessitates the main plot’s conclusion. This conclusion does not lessen the importance of this subplot; in fact, it elevates this part of the novel by revealing it to be essential to both the text as a whole and the fulfillment of readers.   
    The connection between the readers’ sexual desire and death instinct is coextensive with Heathcliff, whose sexual desire is strangely linked with his desire for death. Heathcliff and Cathy’s love is unworldly and impossible to achieve in life. Therefore, Heathcliff looks towards his death as the fulfillment of both his sexual desires and the death instinct. This is why, when Heathcliff tells Nelly “I have a single wish” and that “I am swallowed in the anticipation of its fulfillment,” he makes no attempt to clarify whether he is talking about his approaching death or his desires for Cathy (Brontë 325). For Heathcliff, these two desires are so dependent upon each other that they are united as one wish. The unification of these desires is also apparent in Heathcliff’s statement that he dreams “of dissolving with her” (289). Heathcliff’s wish to dissolve with Cathy is not merely a metaphorical declaration; he bribes the sexton to tear out the barriers between his and Cathy’s coffins to allow them to decompose together. This intent to dissolve with Cathy is the coming together of two bodies in an act that is both sexual and the death instinct’s drive to return to the inorganic state prior to life. Heathcliff again stresses the importance of dissolving with Cathy the night of his death when he tells Nelly “to notice that the sexton obeys my directions concerning the two coffins!” (334). What is clear is that, like the reader, Heathcliff’s sexual desire and death instinct are dependent upon each other.
     The union between Heathcliff’s sexual desire and desire for death can also be seen in the infamous ‘Mad scene.’ In this scene, Heathcliff and Cathy are together for the last time in life. Cathy suffers from a terminal illness and is described as having a “white cheek, and a bloodless lip” (159).  The “paleness of her face” causes Nelly to recognize her as “one doomed to decay” (156). Nelly reiterates the fact that Cathy is clearly dying when she says of Heathcliff, “The same conviction had stricken him as me, from the instant he beheld her, that there was no prospect of ultimate recovery there—she was fated, sure to die” (158). At times during this scene Nelly is unable to even determine whether or not Cathy is conscious or if she is alive. In addition to Cathy’s “haggard” expression, Nelly remarks that Cathy’s eyes “appeared always to gaze beyond, and far beyond—you would have said out of this world” (156). Though alive, Cathy is already in contact with the realm of the dead. And yet, this is the most sexually charged interaction between Heathcliff and Cathy. Heathcliff responds to Cathy’s lifeless and pale body with “frantic caresses” (161) and he “bestowed more kisses than ever he gave in his life before” (158). This scene is full of kisses, wild embraces, and declarations of passion. At one point, it is described that Heathcliff’s “breast heaved convulsively” and then, in a curious manner that Nelly “hardly saw,” they were suddenly “locked in an embrace” from which Nelly feared Cathy “would never be released alive” (160). The heightened sexuality of this moment is even more apparent when one takes into account that the verb ‘to die’ has an alternate meaning, “To experience a sexual orgasm” (OED). With this, Nelly’s comment that Heathcliff and Cathy’s ambiguous physical union might cause Cathy to die assumes a more sexualized meaning. Through this scene, Heathcliff’s sexual passion for the dying Cathy further illustrates how his desire for sex is informed by a desire for death. Only when she is at death’s door is Heathcliff able to express his sexual desire for Cathy. What is crucial about this scene is that Heathcliff’s sexual desire and death instinct remain unfulfilled. These desires can only be properly satisfied in death, when he will finally be able to dissolve with Cathy.
     After Cathy’s death, Heathcliff violates her grave at two different times; the night of her burial, and then again eighteen years later. What is significant is that these violations are Heathcliff’s aborted attempts to satisfy his sexual desire and death instinct too early. On the night of Cathy’s burial, Heathcliff “got a spade from the toolhouse,” dug up Cathy’s grave, and then “fell to work with my hands” (Brontë 289). As he gets closer to Cathy’s body, he casts aside his man-made tool and moves towards a physical connection with her body. As he describes, “the wood commenced cracking about the screws” and, just when he was “on the point of attaining my object,” he felt a presence and stopped (289). Then, Heathcliff provides, “I felt that Cathy was there, not under me, but on earth” (290). At this moment, there exists “a turning back from immediate pleasure” for the sake of the correct end (Brooks 101). For Heathcliff is not yet able to satiate his desires. As with the “mad scene,” Heathcliff’s desires are frustrated to ensure the proper culmination.
     The second violation occurs eighteen years later, shortly before Heathcliff’s death. While the sexton is digging another grave, Heathcliff gets him “to remove the earth off her coffin lid,” and then Heathcliff “opened it” (Brontë 288). Heathcliff describes that, “I thought, once, I would have stayed there, when I saw her face again” (288). When he accounts that he used to think that he would remain with Cathy, Heathcliff is affirming his desire to come into a physical union with Cathy’s dead body. His use of the past tense illustrates his recognition that this desires will not be satisfied at the moment. Like with his previous violation of Cathy’s grave, Heathcliff must wait for the correct fulfillment.
   Also important to consider is Heathcliff’s relationship with Cathy’s ghost. When Heathcliff declares that Cathy “has disturbed me, night and day, through eighteen years,” (289) he is saying that Cathy has answered his plea to “haunt me” (167). Since Cathy’s death, Heathcliff has maintained a strange kind of relationship with Cathy’s ghost. The reader doesn’t find out about this relationship until just before Heathcliff’s death and even then very little information is provided. The sexual dynamics of this relationship become clear when Nelly overhears Heathcliff uttering, “the name of Catherine, coupled with some wild term of endearment” (332). When she comments that he was speaking “as one would speak to a person present,” it is understood that Heathcliff is offering his affections to Cathy’s ghost (332). Also, Heathcliff tells Nelly that, “when I slept in her chamber,” Cathy would sometimes be present “resting her darling head on the same pillow as she did when a child” (290). Essentially, Heathcliff would lie in Cathy’s bed and experience her ghost in bed with him. Furthermore, Heathcliff’s relationship with Cathy’s ghost is analogous to a seduction. As Heathcliff describes, “I could almost see her, and yet I could not! I ought to have sweat blood then, from the anguish of my yearning, from the fervour of my supplications to have but one glimpse!” (290). Through her spiritual presence, Cathy’s ghost would arouse and tease Heathcliff, but never satisfy him with her physical presence. What is important to recognize is that it is only through a physical presence that Heathcliff would be able to touch Cathy and satiate his sexual desires. In this way, Heathcliff’s desire to see Cathy spoke to his desire to touch and have sex with her. Heathcliff’s assertion that “since then, sometimes more, sometimes less, I’ve been the sport of that intolerable torture!” reveals that this type of seduction has been constant in his relationship with Cathy’s ghost (290). For eighteen years, Heathcliff has been involved in an enduring arousal and frustration of sexual desire for Cathy’s ghost. Like readers, the culmination of Heathcliff’s sexual desire and death instinct is delayed throughout Wuthering Heights’ eighteen-year subplot in order to allow the proper ending. This proper ending occurs in Wuthering Heights’ closing image of Heathcliff and Cathy’s grave, where Heathcliff is at long last able to dissolve with Cathy.
    Throughout this discussion, I have illustrated how Heathcliff contends with the same desires as the readers who read this text. First of all, like the readers, Heathcliff possesses both sexual desire and the death instinct. Also, the aims of both of these desires are dependent upon and serve each other. Attempts at the premature fulfillment of these desires must be frustrated in order to allow the proper end. In addition, this proper end is specifically delayed by the eighteen-year subplot. In this way, it is only through the consideration of narrative desire that the unique relationship between the reader and Heathcliff can be understood. In the act of reading Wuthering Heights, readers experience the same interaction between sexual desire and the death instinct that Heathcliff himself experiences within the text. Because Heathcliff is such a perfect representation of narrative desire within Wuthering Heights, readers are unable to separate the book from Heathcliff, thus allowing the readers’ experience of both Wuthering Heights and of Heathcliff to be identical. Since the readers are unable to separate Wuthering Heights from Heathcliff, the sexual desire for reading is a sexual desire for Heathcliff. In this way, the narrative of Wuthering Heights is a seductress in the same way that Heathcliff is a seducer. Because the readers’ sexual desires are based upon man’s base instincts, the desire for Heathcliff transcends gender and sexual preference. This sexual desire for Heathcliff is the real reason for the contradiction in readers and critics’ relationship with Heathcliff. Distance and projection help to explain why the reader does not fear Heathcliff and instead sympathizes with him, but they are not the cause of this contradiction. Rather, they foster the readers’ sexual desire for Heathcliff by helping them to be unafraid and forgive his misdeeds. It is because readers and critics sexually desire Heathcliff that they insist upon liking him despite his horrific portrayal.
     As shown, Peter Brooks’ theory of narrative desire gives insight into Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. For the sexual desire and death instinct of the reader are coextensive with those of the character of Heathcliff. Because of this, the reader’s sexual desire for Wuthering Heights becomes a sexual desire for Heathcliff. This is the reason for the inconsistency in readers and critics’ response to Heathcliff; sexual desire causes us to like the abhorrent Heathcliff. This assertion is significant because it makes the larger claim that the nature of reading influences our response to literature. Furthermore, that our basic desires are key to a more complete understanding of the relationship between the reader and text.

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