Odd Peas in a Pod: Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff and the Grinch (who stole Christmas)
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this piece, I am completely oversimplifying the character of Heathcliff. Please don’t @ me or revoke by BA.
As soon as the clock struck midnight on December 1, the holiday movie roll-out commenced. Generally, I try to avoid this cheesy cringe-fest, but there a few that I am able to sit through without rolling my eyes out of their sockets. One of these is the 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas (that was 18 years ago? Christ.) And I was watching it the other night when an idea shot into my head as though fired from Martha May Whovier’s light cannon.
Is the Grinch secretly Heathcliff from Emily Brontë’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights?
Let me explain.
The narratives of these two anti-heroes begin in similar fashion. A foundling markedly different in appearance from the rest of society, Heathcliff is described as a “dark-skinned gypsy in aspect”. The Grinch is, well, green and furry. Both are taken in and raised among strangers.
Speaking of their upbringing, neither character has a last name (family name). Why? Why didn’t their adoptive parents share their own name? Did they not truly see them as being part of the family? Did they want their child to join the elite pantheon of one-named celebrities that includes Madonna, Prince, and Cher?
Jealousy and xenophobia prompt their male peers to treat them with cruelty (though their popularity with the ladies seems to perpetuate the notion that women are attracted to mysterious bad boys). There is a clear dichotomy between the Grinch and Augustus May Who as there is between Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. One is deemed base; one is deemed reputable. One becomes an outcast; one becomes an important figure in society. In both cases, cultural norms side with the latter and shun the former.
The Grinch exiles himself to Mt. Crumpit, which also serves as the Whoville trash heap. There, he plots and exacts revenge on the town and its citizens, stirring up chaos and ultimately ‘stealing’ Christmas. We have less insight into Heathcliff’s strategems, but when he returns to his childhood home after a prolonged absence, he uses cultural weapons (money, status, and marriage) to wreak havoc on the lives of those who had wronged him.
As outsiders, both Heathcliff and the Grinch rile against society and its shallow hypocrisy. The Grinch sneers at the holiday cheer in Whoville, which is increasingly based on commercialism and performance. Heathcliff uses the appearance of conformity (aka he is attractive, rich, and owns property), to wile his way back into ‘respectable’ society, but he belongs truly to the wild nature of the Heights.
Their plans succeed. Somewhat.
The Grinch saves the day. He reveals the true meaning of Christmas. He gets the girl. His heart grows three sizes and the Whos welcome him back. Everyone (except perhaps Augustus) is happy. It is a conventional fate for a rather unconventional creature.
Heathcliff gets his revenge. He damns the society that now acknowledges him (however grudgingly). Beckoned by Cathy’s spirit, he returns to nature. But society, uh, finds a way. Catherine Jr. teaches Hareton to be ‘proper’. They fall in love and marry. They probably live happily ever after.
So there you have it. Two outsiders become unlikely heroes in their quest to be absolutely awful (by society’s standards, anyway.) One steals and then saves Christmas. One ends up quoted in Twilight.