Revenge and Justice in Wuthering Heights

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“There is a blurred line between revenge and justice. Is revenge, justice? Is revenge, justified? The difference, may be nothing but a shuffling of the same words to make oneself feel morally sound. If we can agree on the idea that revenge is a feeling or act of retribution, and also that justice is no more than a ‘just’ act of retaliation, then we can begin to question the fine structure of moral values and how that affects the definition of these select words.

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First and foremost, what makes an action ‘just’? Does it need to be proportional in punishment to the initial act that prompted said justice, or does it need to be morally humane? I would suggest that society is built on propagations of civility and acts of humanity, so to make an action ‘just’ is to mean it is humane, or ‘good’. Meaning that justice is a ‘good’ or for the better act of retaliation, so the line between revenge and justice is whether it is for the good or the bad of the involved parties. The problem with this arises in the true meaning of good and bad. “good and bad are just artificial constructs” (Harmon, D., & Roiland, J. (Directors). (2017, August 13). Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender [Television episode]. In D. Harmon, J. Roiland, J. A. Fino, J. Russo, II, J. M. Mendel, & K. Micka (Producer), Rick and Morty. Burbank, CA: Cartoon Network.), There is no good in bad in nature, things are, simply what you make them. I believe, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, shows a better distinction of revenge and justice. Rather than just a not so good act of retaliation, revenge, is a force that drives people to behave blinded by their own rage. Another distinction can be made between revenge and justice, the intended outcome. The purpose of revenge, is to restore or shift the balance of power. While conversely the purpose of justice is more about maintaining balance, and less about shifts in power.

Wuthering Heights beautifully shows what revenge is and uses the importance of balance in a closed system (The Earnshaws, and The Lintons) to show this. To create an environment structured around balance Emily Bronte creates a highly dichotomous view of life and all our emotions, love and hate, revenge and justice, even The Heights and The Grange can be identified as part of the role of doubling and balance so often portrayed throughout this novel. The protagonist of this novel is Heathcliff and he deals with many emotions of detestation and betrayal. He deals with his negative emotions by channeling them into feelings of revenge. Revenge is a common theme and the balance developed between revenge and justice is a device employed by Bronte to show how revenge drives people to act blindly out of character.

Heathcliff is an outsider to the Heights, and therefore he is condemned to a life absent of economical class, meaning he as no power in his society. Furthermore he is confined to the social limitations of those who are of no economical class. As a child, Heathcliff was abused by Hindley. Hindley plainly resented the entry of Heathcliff into the Heights and felt he was being treated too kindly considering he was an outsider to The Heights. This is where the cyclical revenge begins, and where the seed is planted in Heathcliff for the desire to plot his ultimate revenge. “He has been blaming our father (how dared he?) for treating H. too liberally; and swears he will reduce him to his right place.” (30), it seems Hindley craved more attention from Mr.Earnshaw and took out his feelings of neglect on Heathcliff. The empowered, trample the powerless, and then the powerless become the empowered and continue a hypocrisy of trampling the new powerless. This cycle is found in Wuthering Heights and is fueled by the powerlesses thirst for revenge upon the empowered. This is where we see one of those distinctions between revenge and justice. Hindley doesn’t want justice, he wants the powerless lower class, Heathcliff, to not get treatment that Hindley feels only someone of his social class deserves. Hindley mistreating Heathcliff is his means of shifting the power back away from Heathcliff and more towards Hindley.

The mistreatment of Heathcliff resulted in him and Catherine to grow closer as “they forgot everything the minute they were together again: at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge.”(11), Catherine made Heathcliff’s misery more bearable and soon Heathcliff and Catherine fall for each other. This results in a conundrum for Heathcliff as his pursuit of his chosen lover, Catherine, is halted by his social class.

It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire. (92)

Catherine claims to love Heathcliff but his lack of social class is enough for her to turn her back on Heathcliff. So not only was he abused because he was an outsider, he soulmate betrayed him. Though surprisingly or maybe not so surprisingly, Heathcliff doesn’t ultimately want revenge on his beloved Catherine, he wants revenge on Edgar. “”’I seek no revenge on you,’ replied Heathcliff, less vehemently. ‘That’s not the plan. The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them.’”” (51), Heathcliff recognizes the hierarchical structure and how those on top constrict those beneath to stay on top. This correlates with the idea that revenge is a power thirsty hate fueled state. Heathcliff craves revenge because he wants to turn the tables on everyone who did him wrong and make them powerless.

Revenge isn’t just an eye for an aye, a tooth for a tooth, it has a deeper meaning. It is the ultimate system that runs unlawful societies. It is the exchange of power from one to another. Justice doesn’t carry this same effect as justice is the system that runs lawful societies. It maintains order, it keeps power as evenly distributed as it was previously in society. Emily Bronte shows this deeper meaning of revenge in Wuthering Heights through the protagonist in that he expresses and acts on pure revenge throughout the story and manipulates the people around him to take and give power to the people of his choice and puts them where he feels they belong.”

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Revenge and Justice in Wuthering Heights. (2021, Apr 02). Retrieved from