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Lockwood's Cruelty in Wuthering Heights

Athlyn Green is an avid reader and discusses literary gems she's discovered with fellow enthusiasts.

At the beginning of the story, we read of Lockwood's perseverance. This sets the stage for a pattern of thrusting himself in where he isn't wanted.

At the beginning of the story, we read of Lockwood's perseverance. This sets the stage for a pattern of thrusting himself in where he isn't wanted.

Mr. Lockwood

When one first starts reading Wuthering Heights, one can't help chuckling at the mishaps that befall Heathcliff's new tenant, Mr. Lockwood. He seems completely out of his element. He's treated inhospitably, is attacked by Heathcliff's dogs, has icy water splashed down his neck, sleeps in a haunted chamber, and sinks up to his neck in snow! The black humor is hilarious.

However, as one continues reading, one starts to realize that almost all of what befalls Lockwood directly results from his own actions. Despite his high estimation of himself, readers discover that he ignores clear signals and pushes in where he is not wanted. He seems to crave attention, and when it is not forthcoming, he doggedly persists in seeking it out, as if he needs the ego stroke. He pays the price for his foolish behavior, but he views himself as the poor set-upon victim. He's thoroughly self-involved, and when he acts thoughtlessly and cruelly, he makes excuses and/or blames others.

In some instances, he is so lacking in empathy, one wonders if he is a sociopath. While much has been conjectured about Heathcliff as the black villain of Wuthering Heights, Bronte spotlights other villains: Lockwood, Hindley, and Joseph, among others, are people who should have known better but who clearly didn't.


False Claim

Lockwood claims to have an aversion to showy displays of feeling but in most of his dealings with others, he has no problem engaging in showy displays of feeling.

Chapter One: Craving Attention and Deliberate Heartlessness

Lockwood is supposed to be a man of breeding and good taste. He's apparently well-to-do and can afford to take lengthy vacations.

He relates that while enjoying a month of fine weather at the sea coast, he spends time in the company of a young woman. He claims to have been "over head and ears" for her, but the moment she shows interest, he shrinks icily into himself. And with each glance she sends his way, he becomes even more distant and cold. Finally, in confusion, the young lady departs.

Lockwood feels that his reputation for deliberate heartlessness is undeserved, and he excuses his treatment of her by claiming an aversion to showy displays of feeling. Yet he indicated his interest through his glances in her direction until she understood him "at last," which indicates he was persistent in eliciting a response from her. It seems more a case of his wanting her admiration of him, but he lost interest once he got what he was after. Lockwood is vain and almost demands that people recognize his presence.

His excuses don't wash, which doesn't justify his treating her so callously. He chooses to treat her icily rather than smile back, which in no way could be construed as an over-the-top show of emotion. He claims he feels love for her but doesn't treat her as one loved. And he does nothing to prevent her leaving, nor with his apparent wealth, does he make any effort to contact her to make amends.

His self-pity doesn't cut it here. He appears to have been more interested in feathering his vanity than truly considering her feelings and well-being. Add to all this that he has a "reputation" for deliberate heartlessness. This is telling when one looks below the surface of his narrative.


  1. Lockwood blames his reserve for his callous, icy, and heartless treatment of a young woman.
  2. Lockwood blames "a curious turn of disposition" for his "undeserved" reputation for heartlessness. (The fact that he has a reputation for this type of behavior speaks to a pattern of heartlessness.)

I felt interested in a man who seemed more exaggeratedly reserved than myself.

— Lockwood


False Claim

Lockwood's perseverance in seeking out attention contradicts his claim that he wanted to get away from human contact.

An Unwelcome Visitor

Lockwood's high estimation of himself doesn't hold under scrutiny, which is borne out when he visits Wuthering Heights. He seems intrigued by Heathcliff's chilly reception and claims he, too, is reserved. Yet, he had no trouble "persevering in soliciting" his lodging at the Grange and no problem going over to his landlord's, knowing that Heathcliff had had some thoughts about renting to him. He isn't shy about seeking out the company of complete strangers, and he is quite vocal even when he finds that the inhabitants at the Heights are taciturn and unwelcoming.

He seems to have a penchant for inserting himself where he is not initially noticed as if he is determined that attention be focused on him. Once he got it with the young woman, he made zero effort, but at the Heights, because he doesn't get it, he continues to push his way in where his intrusion is clearly not welcomed. It's obvious he views "winning people over" as a challenge.

He ignores threatening signals from the mother dog and ignores Heathcliff's warning to let her alone, that she isn't a pet. When he is alone with the pointer and two sheepdogs, he makes faces at them, which provokes an attack. He fends them off with a poker, but when Heathcliff seems annoyed at the hubbub, Lockwood feels he has been subjected to "inhospitable treatment" from the dogs and blames Heathcliff. "You might as well leave a stranger with a brood of tigers!" and Lockwood claims the dogs have a worse spirit in them than the biblical herd of possessed swine

When Heathcliff makes it clear that a second visit is undesired, Lockwood plays true to form and becomes even more determined to go, claiming he somehow feels more sociable, as compared to Heathcliff, as if that is a valid reason for returning where you aren't wanted.


Lockwood claims that Heathcliff's reserve makes him even more sociable.

Chapter Two: Going Where Uninvited

The next day, upon discovering that a meal he wanted to be served at 5:00 PM wouldn't be forthcoming, Lockwood sets out on foot and walks four miles "wading over heath and mud" to Wuthering Heights. His persistence in returning to a place he has not been invited to is interesting and shows stubbornness and perverseness in his nature.

Most people wouldn't subject themselves to the cold shoulder and would go out of their way, in fact, to avoid being treated in this fashion, but not Lockwood. He is willing to go on a long walk and is even willing to brave another encounter with Heathcliff's dogs.


Lockwood blames a servant for making an infernal dust as she extinguishes a fire in his study as his reason for not staying at home and for returning to the Heights so soon after his first visit. However, he could have just as easily found a comfortable chair in another room, rather than braving a long four-mile walk over hilly and steep country in cold weather and choosing to arrive right when people were getting ready to eat supper. When he's ushered inside, he sees the table laid for an evening meal.

Surely a person of his social standing would have been taught manners and appropriate etiquette, but Lockwood circumvents convention when it suits him. And why does he walk instead of riding his horse over, as he did on his first visit? This seems a calculated attempt to force a supper invitation.

Fellow-martyrs, have at him! Drag him down, and crush him to atoms, that the place which knows him may know him no more!

— Lockwood

In a dream, Lockwood and Joseph visit the chapel at Gimmerden Sough to hear Reverend Jabez Branderham preach about forgiveness.

In a dream, Lockwood and Joseph visit the chapel at Gimmerden Sough to hear Reverend Jabez Branderham preach about forgiveness.

Chapter Three: Murderous Intent

Lockwood's second visit proves disastrous, and because of a snowstorm, he is forced to spend the night at the Heights. He has a dream in which he has to endure a lengthy sermon. He tells church members to strike down the preacher and crush him to atoms. While it may seem slightly funny that the church members end up brawling - every man's hand was against his neighbor's–this still shows a murderous intent. What kind of person would truly want to murder a man of God?

Even if it is just a dream and dreams don't always make sense, it still raises important questions and provides clues to Lockwood's subconscious mind. Most normal people dream about all kinds of things, but usually, they don't dream about murdering someone. That is a boundary they cannot cross, even in a subconscious, dreaming state. But just as Lockwood pushes past boundaries when he is conscious, so too he does when he is not.

On the first reading, readers may not give much thought to Lockwood's dream and his potential for violence. Still, the next occasion raises a huge red flag about a man who is supposed to have breeding, taste, education, money, and probable religious knowledge, all of which, one would think, would have instilled compassion and prove a tempering force.


A long sermon is "too much" and is used as an excuse to incite others to murder.

When's Catherine's child ghost pleads for help, Lockwood refuses.

When's Catherine's child ghost pleads for help, Lockwood refuses.

Begone! I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years.

— Lockwood


False Claims

1. With zero proof, Lockwood claims the ghost would have strangled him.

2. Lockwood claims he had a nightmare but his later remarks show he believed the room was haunted.

Cowardly and Cruel Behavior

In this same chapter, we learn more about Lockwood's character when he encounters Catherine's ghost at the window. While he later claims to Heathcliff that he had a dreadful nightmare, it is doubtful that he viewed it as a nightmare, so it can be reasonably expected that he might have behaved better. Did he?

Annoyed at the tapping of a branch on the window and showing no regard for his landlord's property, he puts his fist through the glass and encounters an icy hand. Catherine appears as a young child who begs to be let in—and instead of showing any concern or kindness, Lockwood refuses to help her.

Nothing in his description of Catherine's ghost could deem her as menacing. She has a little hand; she is shivering. A melancholy voice sobs and says she had been lost on the moor but has come home and begs to be let in. Lockwood sees a child's face. While most readers may have been stirred to pity, not Lockwood—he keeps trying to shake her off.

Then in a heartless act of utter brutality, he rubs her little wrist to and fro over the jagged shards of broken window glass until the blood flows freely and stains the bedclothes. His behavior is shocking in its cruelty.

Catherine continues begging, and he lies to her and says he will let her in if she releases her grip, but instead, he piles up the books against the hole, closes his eyes, and shuts up his ears for over a quarter of an hour, ignoring her pleas. Even if he was initially frightened, this should have given him enough time to gather his wits. Still, even after time has passed, he shows zero compassion for the plight of the young ghost, nor tries to help her, nor, if he didn't feel he could deal with her directly, summons any of the household to come to her aid.

Once again, it's all about Lockwood, and he portrays himself as the poor set-upon victim and excuses his behavior, but would a grown man be that frightened of the specter of a young child? Why did he choose cruelty over compassion?

When Heathcliff discovers him—and remember, this is a chamber that no one is allowed to go in, that Heathcliff believes is haunted—and Heathcliff is understandably startled by hearing a yell in the middle of the night coming from what is supposed to be a vacant room and then seeing the panels of Catherine's bed moving - Lockwood describes Heathcliff's reaction as "cowardly." This is most interesting considering the cowardly way Lockwood has just reacted to the child ghost.

And Heathcliff, unlike Lockwood, is quick to wrench open the lattice and beg Catherine to come in. He isn't afraid and instead feels grief and anguish and is moved to tears, which Lockwood dismisses as raving and folly, instead of the raw, heartfelt emotion it clearly was, which Lockwood seems puzzled over.

Lockwood is heartless, Heathcliff is full of heart, and the heartless one is quick to blame and engage in name-calling.


  • "Terror made me cruel."
  • Lockwood blames a frightful nightmare for his screaming instead of his cowardice.
  • He blames Zillah for putting him in the chamber after refusing to sleep with Joseph or Hareton (bed-sharing was a common practice in the past).
  • He contradicts his claim that he was having a nightmare by now admitting that the room is haunted, and he blames Zillah again, claiming she put him in the room deliberately because she wanted proof it was haunted.
  • He even blames Heathcliff, saying that no one would thank him for a doze in such a den, seemingly forgetting that he arrived out of the blue at suppertime, that snow and the dark prevented him traveling back to the Grange, and that Heathcliff told him he didn't keep accommodations for visitors.
  • When Heathcliff takes him to task about his making noise in the middle of the night, Lockwood also blames the ghost, calling Catherine a fiend that would have strangled him.

    He claims he won't "endure the persecutions" of Heathcliff's ancestors, i.e., the preacher Lockwood ordered the congregation to kill, the pleadings of the child ghost he violently harmed.

    When Heathcliff says that Lockwood's childish outcry has sent sleep to the devil for him, self-absorbed Lockwood says that it has also prevented his sleeping.

  • In a remark that is actually disguised blaming, Lockwood claims he is cured of seeking pleasure in others' company and will look to himself. He wasn't asked to the Heights and ignored all signals to the contrary, but it's their fault that his visits have gone awry.

False Claim

Lockwood claims to be very weak but has the energy to sit up talking for hours with the housekeeper.

Chapters Four to Nine: Self-Absorption and Little Concern for Others

Lockwood arrives back at the Grange around noon the next day, but in his typical fashion, and despite claiming he was as "feeble as a kitten," a few short hours later, he seeks stimulation and attention, so when Mrs. Dean brings in his supper, he detains her, wanting company. Regardless of what other duties she may have had to finish up or her plans for the evening, she is expected to sit and entertain him.

After a considerable recounting of events (a time span from dusk to 11:00 PM), Nelly is annoyed at herself for chattering on so. She rises to leave, but Lockwood, oblivious that she might desire to go to bed, tells her to sit and suggests she continue in the same leisurely (lengthy) fashion. She objects, pointing to the lateness of the hour, and Lockwood tells her he doesn't go to bed early, seemingly unaware (or simply not caring) that Nelly might have to because, as a paid housekeeper, she may have to rise early to fulfill her duties.

When he mentions he stays up late and sleeps in until 10:00 AM, she says that a person should have half their work done by that time in the morning (confirming that she has to rise early to fulfill her duties).

Nelly tries to jump forward in her recounting, no doubt so that she can hurry it along, but Lockwood will have none of it and tells her to continue minutely. And he flatters her, likely with the aim of softening her up.

After adding more to the story, Nelly looks at the time-piece over the chimney and is amazed at the lateness of the hour. It is now half-past one. She won't hear of staying one second longer.

Lockwood describes her exodus as "vanishing."

Chapters 10 to 14: Playing the Victim

Lockwood falls ill and likely is after getting lost and sinking up to his neck in snow when he returned to the Grange from the Heights and not having the good sense to go to bed and rest but rather sitting up to the wee hours with Nelly. He is sick for four weeks and is distressed by the intimation of the surgeon, Kenneth, that he need not expect to be out of doors till spring, which should have suited someone who claimed to be seeking solitude. He bemoans the impassable roads and being confined to the Grange, but as always, his perception of his state of affairs isn't based in reality. If the roads were truly impassable, Kenneth wouldn't have been able to get through to nurse Lockwood, and neither would Heathcliff, who unexpectedly pays a visit.

In two acts of kindness, Heathcliff sends a brace of grouse and then, a week later, stops in to see Lockwood and actually sits at his bedside and visits with him. No doubt he has heard his tenant has fallen ill. Instead of feeling appreciative for the kindness and for Heathcliff's voluntarily initiating attention to Lockwood at last, Lockwood promptly mentally calls Heathcliff a scoundrel and feels he's partly to blame for Lockwood's illness. This is truly amazing since Lockwood decided to go over to the Heights in winter and with a snowstorm threatening, and it was Lockwood himself who got lost and sunk up to his neck in the snow, despite Heathcliff walking him home most of the way.

After Heathcliff leaves, Lockwood, while claiming he is too weak to read, is somehow strong enough to want Mrs. Dean to entertain him by continuing her tale, so he summons her, believing she will be delighted to find him capable of talking "cheerfully." One can only imagine the trials he may have put her to, confined to a sick bed for four weeks, tossing and turning. She tries to hedge, saying he should take his medicine but Lockwood waves this off and insists she take up her tale.

When Nelly later goes down to admit Kenneth, Lockwood's thoughts turn to himself, and he conceitedly reflects that he's seen fascination in Cathy's eyes (a young woman over at the Heights), and he tells himself to beware of losing his heart to her because she might turn out like her mother, Catherine. He has such an inflated ego that he invents interest where there is none.

False Claims

1. Lockwood claims the roads are impassable but he has visitors.

2. He claims he is sick because of Heathcliff.

While denying his interest in the young woman over at the Heights, Lockwood has Nelly hang a picture of her where he can see it.

While denying his interest in the young woman over at the Heights, Lockwood has Nelly hang a picture of her where he can see it.

Chapter 24: Classic Contradictions

Nelly remarks on Lockwood's interest each time she mentions Cathy over at the Heights.

Lockwood denies this, but readers learn that he had Nelly hang a painting of Cathy over his fireplace.

As per usual, he is fascinated by anyone who rejects him and doesn't give him the attention he feels he deserves—but he isn't seriously interested, and when Nelly suggests the two might get together, Lockwood furnishes excuses as to why this can't happen, instead of thinking of ways it could.

Lockwood rides over to tell Heathcliff he is leaving, which is a good excuse to see if he can incite Cathy's interest.

Lockwood rides over to tell Heathcliff he is leaving, which is a good excuse to see if he can incite Cathy's interest.

False Claim

Lockwood claims that Nelly has tried to match-make between him and young Cathy.

Chapter 30: Playing True to Form

Nelly concludes her history of the happenings at both households. And Lockwood, having extracted what he could from those around him, now makes plans to depart, even though he rented the Grange in October, and it is now only the second week in January. He plans to ride over to Wuthering Heights and inform Heathcliff he is leaving.

This is entirely consistent for a man who is thoughtless, rash, impulsive, and seems to only look at people for what they can do for him. Remember, Heathcliff actually made an effort to be friendly, and just as Lockwood did with the girl at the sea coast whose interest he finally elicited, he has now seemingly lost interest.

Since, by now, we know he isn't honest about his motives, readers may wonder if his removing himself up north had more to do with embarrassment over others' perception of his treatment of the young lady rather than a real desire to spend time in solitude, which the winter months at the Grange would have afforded him.

After priding himself that Cathy is interested in him, he notices that she continues to pay him little heed when he arrives again at the Heights: "She hardly raised her eyes to notice me... never returning my bow and good morning by the slightest acknowledgment." And predictably, he blames Nelly: "She does not seem so amiable," I thought, "as Mrs. Dean would persuade me to believe."

When Cathy mentions she has no books, instead of feeling sorry for her plight or offering to send some to her, he turns the conversation to himself: "How do you contrive to live here without them? Though provided with a large library, I'm frequently very dull at the Grange; take my books away, and I should be desperate!" Almost like rubbing salt into a wound.

In a surprising show of "concern," he then takes Hareton's side against her, no doubt secretly annoyed that she won't give him the admiration he desires from her. This is the same Hareton that Lockwood thought of as a clown, a boor, and a bear, but suddenly, he acts like he actually cares what happens to him.

When Cathy later does as instructed by Heathcliff, Lockwood tellingly relates: living among clowns and misanthropists, she probably cannot appreciate a better class of people when she meets them. So once again, he convinces himself that her lack of interest in him, i.e., "a better class of people," has to do with the influence of others.

As he rides away, it still rankles, and he tells himself that it would have been a realization of something more romantic than a fairytale for Cathy if the two of them had struck up an attachment.

Lockwood leaves in a thoughtless and cowardly fashion.

Lockwood leaves in a thoughtless and cowardly fashion.

Chapter 32 to 33: Impulsiveness and Thoughtlessness

Eight months later, Lockwood travels up north to see a friend, and he has a sudden impulse to see the Grange again. He figures since he still has it rented until October he may as well spend the night there rather than paying for an inn.

He arrives out of the blue, announces he is the master and wishes to stay over. The new housekeeper is surprised and remarks that no one knew he was coming and he should have sent word. She is flurried and now has to try to accommodate him hurriedly.

He decides to walk over to the Heights to give her time to prepare for his stay.

When he reaches the Heights, he hears and sees Hareton and Cathy flirting as Cathy teaches Hareton to read, and he feels envious and skulks and avoids them, telling himself that Hareton would condemn him to hell, and he hides out in the kitchen.

Nelly is now housekeeper at the Heights, and when she sees him, she expresses similar sentiments as the Grange housekeeper did: "How could you think of returning in this way? All's shut up at Thrushcross Grange. You should have given us notice!"

She fills him in on the death of Heathcliff and the romance between Cathy and Hareton and says she's glad that Lockwood "did not try" with Cathy.

Lockwood departs when he hears Cathy and Hareton coming back from their walk. Instead of wishing them well on their upcoming nuptials and ignoring Nelly's expostulations at his rudeness, he avoids them and darts out through the kitchen.

Is Lockwood a Sterling Character?

How He Views HimselfHow He Treats Others

vain about his personal attributes

ignores cues

conceited about his looks


seeks attention

breaches personal boundaries


lacks empathy

feels his bad reputation is undeserved

is cruel

feels he is a poor victim

blames others

rarely takes personal responsibility

makes excuses

feels persecuted

engages in name-calling

Points to Ponder

  1. Why do you think Bronte showed that others besides Heathcliff could be terribly cruel?
  2. What statement was she making about those who have all the advantages and who still choose to be thoughtless and heartless?
  3. Why do you think she chose forgiving 70 x 7 as the topic of Jabez's sermon?
  4. Neither Jabez nor Lockwood are willing to extend forgiveness past the required 70 x 7. What does that tell us about their actual spirituality?
  5. What actions by Lockwood raise questions about anti-social personality disorder?
  6. Is it possible, in the context of this novel (and not in the biblical sense), that knowingly being cruel could be construed as "the first of the seventy-first" a sin that "no Christian need pardon"? In other words, was Bronte making a statement that knowingly being cruel was inexcusable?
  7. Bronte took such care to show up Lockwood's faults, it is unlikely this was by accident. He rents, Heathcliff owns. Is it possible she was showing that some people make little investment in life and love and are "renters"; whereas others, like Heathcliff, take ownership and are in it for the long haul?
  8. What can readers learn from Cathy and Hareton?

Weakness and Strength

By making such a comprehensive character sketch of Lockwood, Bronte in a skillfull use of "show don't tell" uses comparison to paint a compelling picture of one man's weaknesses and another's strengths.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Athlyn Green


Leonhard Euler on December 04, 2018:

I can see the reasoning in this analysis and agree with most of the points, but overall I think it greatly exaggerates Lockwood’s character and taints many of his reactions by painting the context as if every other character is an angel. Personally, I would be more inclined to describe Lockwood as a bumbling fool, ignorant of social construct, than to describe him as a heartless, cruel villain.

And in response to D. Paul Riderman, how could Heathcliff’s nature possibly be justified. He was of course mistreated in youth (primarily by Hindley and Joseph) and later endured the hurt of losing Catherine to Edgar. However, no matter how mistreated he was, Heathcliff was not justified in deceiving Isabella, withholding education from Hareton, taking advantage of Hindley, or basically torturing Cathy and Linton emotionally. He by no means had to give into his vindictive tendencies at any point. I don’t disagree that the other characters in the book were repulsive in their own ways, but NONE OF THEM went out of their way to deliberately ruin the others’ lives because they were victims of cruel treatment.

D. Paul Riderman on February 07, 2018:

I'm one of the few who think Heathcliff is a hero in every way, and cruelty comes for the abuse he received throughout his life (including emotional). Catherine is a victim of the time she lived. The other characters were disgusting in the speak and their actions. Even when Heathcliff's son was crying over his dead father the men tell he can stop now because his father is dead. There are no redeeming characters in that village.