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The Great American Read: Wuthering Heights

The Great American Read - Wuthering Heights

The Great American Read is a new eight-part series from PBS that explores and celebrates the power of reading, told through America’s 100 best-loved novels. Join the conversation with PBS and WUCF! 

Read the list of 100 books.
Vote for your favorite.
Share your love of reading using #GreatReadPBS

The series returns to WUCF on September 11 at 8 p.m.
For more information and to vote, visit pbs.org/greatamericanread

When I was a kid I lived in Brooklyn, New York. Every single day, I took a series of trains to get to and from school. Those daily commutes would add up to become some of the most influential experiences of my childhood.

New Yorkers have some of the longest daily commutes of anywhere in the country. If you’re rushing to get to work, it can be frustrating – but if you’re a 10-year-old bookworm needing to occupy your attention in a pre-mobile-device-America then this was the magic hour.

It started with comic books and R.L. Stine, then science fiction, then nonfiction, and eventually anything I could get in my possession. Thanks to a 45-minute-plus subway ride, I was reading books faster than I could get them.

There’s no shortage of beauty and horror in New York City and against the backdrop of the greatest city on Earth, I developed a huge love for reading. It wasn’t too long afterwards that my family moved to Florida. It was a very tough transition. My school changed, my friends changed, the weather changed – but one thing that remained unchanged was my deep love for stories.

It was during this time that I discovered many of the classics that are now included on the list of 100 most-loved books for The Great American Read; stories from some of the best authors, such as Alice Walker, Oscar Wilde, Tom Clancy, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin and many more – but the one that has remained the most impactful to me is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

I connected on a deep emotional level with the main character, Heathcliff. Oftentimes, the romance between Heathcliff and Catherine is the most revered element of the epic story – but what I continue to find most fascinating is the struggle and plight of Heathcliff. This is someone who was poor, an outsider, adopted by strangers, surrounded by people who looked different than him, and bullied mercilessly for those reasons. It’s painful to think of what the character must deal with emotionally to survive such trauma.

The relationship with Catherine seemed to provide his main solace for living, hence the unyielding devotion he shares for her and the subsequent pain at the desolation of their dynamic.

Heathcliff is probably one of the greatest (and most horrific) characters ever created, but he is also at the center of one of the most important cautionary tales of love in the history of fiction. Second, maybe, only to Romeo & Juliet.

As much as I have loved this story, I always find it odd that an entire generation seemed to idolize and romanticize the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. The idea that young people would desire to share a romantic love that produces so much violence and vengeance is truly sad – but on the pages it is a wonder to behold because it shows the audience what very well could, but very well shouldn’t, happen to anyone who falls in love.

Unlike the romantic heroes that precede the release of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff never truly atones for his evils and continues his horror well past what anyone would deem remotely necessary. It consumes him in life as well as in death. Think about that for a moment – the dark and brooding romantic hero slowly becomes devoid of any good nature, never seeks redemption, and begins to embody every abhorrent quality you could then imagine; all of this because he never finds peace after trauma and love lost. I assume this is why the major film adaptations of the story have largely omitted the second half of the book and its grim ending for Heathcliff.

As a filmmaker, I’ve always been attracted to stories of struggle – particularly where I can explore the protagonist’s pain. There can be so many devastating changes in life and my favorite stories are ones of deep love that remain unchanged forever.

Ricardo Williams is a filmmaker, musician, event organizer and program manager. Since studying communications at Pace University in NYC, he’s appeared in commercials and independent films and produced numerous albums. He’s also guest lectured on film theory and video production at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Currently, Ricardo is the host of Nerd Nite Orlando.

You can follow Ricardo on Twitter @RicardoWilliams.

Content written by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of OCLS and its staff.

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