Ambition: Wuthering Heights

The question is, is ambition a noun or a verb? The oxford dictionary defines ambition as, something that one wants to do or achieve (Turnbull etl, 2015). The Unabridged dictionary defines it as “an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honour, fame, wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment (, 2015).

An ambition is an eager and sometimes inordinate, desire for preferment, honour, and superiority, power, or the attainment of something. It is also to object or obtain a goal that is immensely desired. It originates from the Middle English word “Ambicioun” via the Latin and middle French, meaning the excessive desire for power, money, or wealth. Ambition can be driving force for success or in some cases the road to failure (123HelpMe, 2015).

Ambition is also a strong desire to achieve something in life. Having an ambition needs continuous efforts towards achieving it. Different people have ambitions in life, the nature of ambition varies from person to person. Ambition depends on ones, family background, upbringing, social status, and economic condition (Rajkoomar, 2010).

Ambition is not always a positive desire, ambition can also be negative; ambition can be greed, intolerance and the drive for power (Writefix, 2012). In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is a perfect example of a man who grows up to have negative ambition, his ambition was revenge, and he knew he would achieve that by gaining economical power in order to gain property which is Wuthering heights.


Ambition in Wuthering Heights.

Wealth and power leading to social ambition and to property ambition

Social ambition is the main basis for the main conflict in Wuthering Heights. Catherine who was a wild young girl in the novel, had a very close relationship with Heathcliff, but as she grows and becomes more aware wealth and society, she drifts away from Heathcliff, as she tries to fit in with those who are higher in the social ladder who are the Linton’s. Catherine is in love with Heathcliff but she is in love with wealth and social appraisal even more, since she chooses to marry Edgar Linton instead of the man she loves. Catherine’s ambition is to be wealthy and to be the greatest women in society, loved and praised by society her society. And her love for Heathcliff is nothing but the end of her high social status “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff…” (Brontë, 2010:) these are her words to Nelly when she wants Nelly’s advise about Edgar Linton’s proposal to her when Nelly asks her about Heathcliff. It is unfortunate that in this conversation Heathcliff only hears these words and not the rest of their conversation when Catherine expresses her love for Heathcliff and how Heathcliff is more herself and that their souls are made of the same substance (Brontë, 2010:).

This angers and hurts Heathcliff because he knows that he could have won Catherine’s heart if he was not of common birth or poor. This is the first driving force for his social ambition. The second reason that social ambition is important to Heathcliff is because of how badly he is treated by Hindley, particularly after Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley inherits the estate.

“I want you to be aware that I know that you have treated me infernly-infernly! Do you hear? And if you flatter yourself that I don’t perceive it you are a fool- and if you fancy I’ll suffer unrevenged, I’ll convince you to the contrary, in a very little while!” (Brontë, 2010:) these are Heathcliff’s words to Hindley promising him to avenge himself for the mistreatment Hindley has done to Heathcliff. As he continues to say that god shall not have the satisfaction that he shall when avenges Hindely, and he states that these thoughts of revenge numb his pain.

Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights motivated by social ambition and vengeance, and years later he comes back wealthy and polished. As Hindley is devastated by his wife’s death he has become a drunkard and has gambled all his inheritance away. Heathcliff convinces him to sell Wuthering Height to him, and automatically gains control of it.

Heathcliff although still in love with Catherine who is still married to Edgar, he marries Isabella Linton who he abuses physically and emotionally, he does this as revenge to the Linton’s for taking his love away who is Catherine. At this stage Heathcliff’s ambition has resulted him with wealth that buys him power over Isabella and Wuthering Heights where he mistreats Hareton who is Hindley’s son in vengeance of the bad way that Hindley had treated him when they were younger.

Heathcliff has a son with Isabella, who is named Linton Heathcliff, and he forces his son to marry the daughter of Catherine and Edgar “Catherine”, Knowing that young Catherine’s inheritance which is Thushcross Grange will automatically belong to his son. Knowing it will indirectly belong to him. It can be said that Heathcliff now owns both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange this satisfies his ambition for property.

Heathcliff’s ambition is negative in the sense that his ambition was driven by anger, pain, and vengeance. This resulted in no satisfaction in all that he had accumulated, all of the wealth and property he had did not bring him joy because in the end he still had not won his love Catherine. All he had accumulated was to make everyone else suffer and in the end this resulted in his own suffering (e notes, 2012).

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Linking Ambition to the Tragic Hero by Aristotle

Aristotle defines a tragic hero as a literary character who makes a judgment error that inevitably leads to his her own destruction. A tragic hero is man of noble stature and has greatness, therefore his character must embody nobility and virtue, he is not perfect, and the hero’s downfall is his own fault which is the result of free choice. The hero is physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in his death or fate. His punishment exceeds his crime, his fall is not all loss there is some form of gain in self knowledge (Gendy, 2014).

Heathcliff is the tragic hero in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights his judgement was that everyone that caused him pain has to suffer, which led to his suffering, when he returns to Wuthering Heights he returns as a noble man with wealth, he is not perfect in many ways although he was handsome, he has a very dangerous temper, Heathcliff was spiritually wounded by his adoptive brother Hindley, and his punishment was to never get the chance to be with his love Catherine in life but rather in death.

Hamartia: Aristotle asserted that tragic heroes are guilty of hamartia, or “missing the mark” this means that the hero has made a bad decision or miscalculation as a result of poor reasoning or an external stimulus. In Wuthering Heights Heathcliff made a bad decision of causing harm to everyone that caused him pain and took his love from him Catherine.

“It is a poor conclusion is it not.., an absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready, and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished! My old enemies have not beaten me- now would be the precise time to revenge myself on their representatives- I could do it; and none could hinder me- but where is the use? …I can’t take the struggle to raise my hand! That sounds as if had been labouring the whole time, only to exhibit a fine trait of magnanimity. I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing” (Brontë, 2010:340).

These are Heathcliff’s words when he realises that all he had done has not given him anything, and his revenge and ambition has turned out to be useless and non beneficial. This is when he gains knowledge of his actions.


The American Dream- Ambition and Social Expectation

The American dream is defined as someone starting low on the economic or social level, and working towards prosperity, wealth, and fame. The American Dream is symbolised by having lots of money, a car, a big house (mansion), expensive clothes, and a happy family symbolises the American dream. The Kardishian family are a perfect example of the American dream. This concept also represents that people, no matter who they are, can become successful in life by their own work. The desire to strive for what a person wants can be accomplished if that person works hard enough



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Michels, E. 2009. What is the American Dream? [Available]  Accessed 02 May 2015).

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