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Jacob Tokosh

Mrs. Martin

Honors Classics in Literature

2 September 2011

                                      Revenge in Neon Lights

       Revenge is a fairly discernible concept. As a literary theme, it is usually not difficult to

detect or analyze. When used as the main theme, it can be very straightforward. Whether the act

of revenge is justified or not depends on the situation. This conditional justification applies to

The Count of Monte Cristo, Wuthering Heights, and other revenge works. Revenge novels often

include an atypical, sometimes disenchanting protagonist, a highly driven plot which focuses on

the actual act of taking revenge, and a select victim or victims which had wronged the

protagonist in some way. These properties make up the foundation of revenge works.

       Protagonists are often antiheroes, or in the case of Edmond and Heathcliff, Byronic

heroes, who exhibit negative qualities such as arrogance and cynicism. This sort of

characterization plays an important role when creating revenge works. While on the path of

revenge, the protagonist may have to engage in reprehensible, even criminal activity, ranging

from assault and murder to blatant acts of terrorism. Although Edmond’s and Heathcliff’s crimes

were limited to manipulation and domestic abuse, these Byronic heroes forged their paths by

harming others. In Wuthering Heights, Isabella, who had eloped with Heathcliff, writes home

describing her husband’s spousal abuse, “He told me of Catherine's illness, and accused my

brother of causing it, promising that I should be Edgar's proxy in suffering till he could get hold

of him” (Brontë 145). Edmond never hurts anyone directly; he usually allows situation to pan out

on their own. When Caderousse is betrayed by his partner, Edmond washes his hands of all
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responsibility, “I should have stopped Benedetto from killing you after you had just blunted your

dagger against the coat of mail that covered my chest? If I had found you humble and repentant I

might have saved your life, but I found you haughty and bloodthirsty and I allowed God’s will to

be done” (Dumas 342). An archetypal hero would never even consider revenge as an option. In

order for the plot to move forward, and for the cycle of revenge to be completed, the protagonist

must carry a slight disregard for certain moral values. Once the protagonist’s plot is put into

motion, there is no turning back under most circumstances.

       Revenge works normally focus on the steps the protagonist takes in his or her revenge

scheme, and the plot may exhibit dynamism in several different ways. The protagonist may

affect others directly or indirectly. Both Edmond and Heathcliff use indirect actions, often by

manipulating others, in order to inflict damage upon their enemies. Edmond has Haydée testify

in court in order to damage Morcerf’s reputation; Heathcliff forces Cathy to marry his son in

order to gain power over her father’s estate. Both protagonists use roundabout ways of seeking

retribution, as opposed to confronting their enemies directly. Their revenge plots unfold to create

the most of the storyline of each novel. As the events develop, the story may reveal itself to be

plot-driven, character-driven, or both. The Count of Monte Cristo is plot-driven, as the story

focuses heavily on the events that take place, much like an action movie. The events are

dynamic, revealing, and play out in a dramatic fashion. For instance, Edmond rigs Madame de

Villefort carriage to spin out of control just to catch her attention. After Edmond rescues

Madame de Villefort, he declares, “I’m doubly glad to have saved you from the danger in which

those horses place you because you might have attributed it to me: I bought those horses from

the baron yesterday, but the baroness seemed so grieved at having lost them that I sent them back

to her the same day” (Dumas 208). In Wuthering Heights, the storyline is less bombastic and it is
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built around character interaction. The actions are subtle, but each character in Wuthering

Heights has different qualities, and putting two of them in the same room is likely to cause a

volatile reaction. For example, the conversation between Isabella and Catherine takes a drastic

turn as Isabella declares, “You are a dog in the manger, Cathy” (Brontë 102). Catherine retorts,

calling Isabella an “impertinent little monkey” (Brontë 102). This argument alone is an important

event, as it leads to Isabella eloping with Heathcliff. Regardless of how dynamic each story is,

they both focus on three simple subjects: the protagonist, the act of taking revenge, and of

course, the victim.

       No revenge plot would be complete, or even remotely sound, without an intended victim.

The target is someone who had wronged the protagonist in some way. Edmond takes revenge

against Morcerf, Danglars, and Villefort for his false imprisonment. Edmond says to Danglars,

“Your life will be spared. Your two accomplices weren’t so lucky: one of them is insane and the

other is dead! Keep the fifty thousand francs you have left; I make you a gift of it” (Dumas 522).

Once Morcerf and Villefort had been dealt with, Edmond finalizes Danglars’ punishment,

thereby completing the circle of revenge. Heathcliff’s anger was initially directed Edgar, but he

victimizes everyone in his path. In order to acquire Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff forces his

own son to marry Cathy, and then proceeds to hold her hostage. Linton explains Heathcliff’s

plan, "Papa wants us to be married…And he knows your papa wouldn't let us marry now, and

he's afraid of my dying if we wait; so we are to be married in the morning, and you are to stay

here all night; and if you do as he wishes, you shall return home next day, and take me with you"

(Brontë 272). Heathcliff seeks vengeance against Edgar, and he is willing to kidnap Nelly and

Cathy, and force the latter to marry his son, in order to do so. Once the victim has received
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punishment, the story is usually close to its resolution. This is the case for most revenge works,

including one in particular.

       V for Vendetta, a film based on the comic book series, features the revenge theme and

plays out on a much larger scale than either The Count of Monte Cristo or Wuthering Heights. V

for Vendetta couples revenge with dystopian society in order to create a complex, dynamic

universe. As a victim of a failed science experiment, the protagonist, V, sets out to kill all who

were involved with the project while eliminating the totalitarian government of London, known

as the Party. As an anarchist, V is an antihero, and yet he does not exhibit arrogance. In fact, he

is quite aware of his mortality and is portrayed as a romantic. His is, however, a bit cynical and

slow to trust others. V takes direct action against his enemies, confronting them face to face and

never backing down. Obviously, his crimes include murder and acts of terrorism. There is an air

of mystery about V, and his history is not reviled until later in the story. V for Vendetta also

follows Evey Hammond, a young woman who becomes V’s apprentice. In the dénouement, V is

mortally wounded and given a Viking funeral on a train rigged with explosives. Evey sends the

train forward as the people of London march in protest of the government; Parliament and Big

Ben are promptly annihilated. Prior to his death, V successfully killed the government heads as

part of his revenge, allowing the people of London to live freely. V’s revenge transcends

personal plights, and it would not have been complete until the entire government crumbled.
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                                          Works Cited

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1847. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.

       University of Virginia Library, 1993. Web. <



Dumas, Alexandre, and Lowell Blair. The Count of Monte Cristo. Toronto: Bantam, 1956. Print.

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