Hindley Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights: Description & Character Analysis

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

Hindley Earnshaw is a real jerk. He's both a model for and the cause of Heathcliff's terrible rage and desire for vengeance in Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights.' Here's how.

Hindley Earnshaw, A Real Jerk

While Hindley Earnshaw is described as having brown hair and the ''Earnshaw eyes'', his chief characteristic is a nasty mean streak, especially toward Heathcliff. Nelly, his maid, describes him as ''tyrannical and evil.'' As a child, a young adult, and as the master of Wuthering Heights, Hindley is abusive verbally and physically to just about everybody around him. He's also smart, calculating, and manipulative, scheming to elevate his own social status by pressuring a marriage between his sister Catherine and Edgar Linton, of the rich and socially well-off Linton family of Thrushcross Grange.

Hindley's meanness is enhanced by his love for drinking and gambling. Hindley's gambling habit eventually lets Heathcliff gain control of Wuthering Heights, as Hindley mortgages the house to Heathcliff for more gambling money. And the drinking makes Hindley even angrier and more abusive; he neglects his son Hareton and beats on Heathcliff even more. He eventually drinks himself to death, letting Heathcliff run wild with his plots for revenge on Hindley, Edgar, and others.

Hindley vs. Heathcliff, Round One

The conflict between Hindley and Heathcliff is really what sets the events of the rest of the book into motion -- the nature of their relationship, who has the upper hand, and who's in position to take advantage of the other, are all important as the characters mature. The conflict starts when Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley's father, brings Heathcliff home from the streets of Liverpool. Hindley refers to Heathcliff as an imp and a demon, and he wishes horrible things on his adoptive brother (he hopes a horse will kick Heathcliff's brains out, for instance). He also beats Heathcliff up frequently, and Mr. Earnshaw hates it.

Hindley is jealous of the attention that Heathcliff gets from Mr. Earnshaw -- he's a spoiled brat, basically. Hindley is supposed to be the heir, the special one, who'll inherit Wuthering Heights someday, and he doesn't want anybody else to get his father's attention. His mistreatment of Heathcliff only makes Catherine like Heathcliff more, so Hindley eventually gets fed up and leaves for college.

Hindley vs. Heathcliff, Round Two

When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley comes back to Wuthering Heights with his wife Frances to take control of the house. He also takes control of Heathcliff -- as the master of the house, he's much more able to make Heathcliff's life miserable. It's not about jealousy at this point, since Mr. Earnshaw is dead. Hindley is just holding a grudge from before he left.

Hindley's mistreatment of Heathcliff evolves during this time; since the characters are older and value social status, wealth, and education, the things that they do to abuse each other are different. It's not so much punching and kicking each other at this point; it's more social degradation, as Hindley lords his higher status over Heathcliff and does everything he can to keep Heathcliff's social status as low as possible. He treats him like a servant, dresses him in shoddy clothes, and won't let him get an education.


Hindley hits his lowest point when his wife dies shortly after giving birth to a son, Hareton Earnshaw. Frances was able to temper some of Hindley's worse impulses, so without her he's totally unleashed. This is when he drives all the servants away from Wuthering Heights, and it's when he's at his most physically violent toward Heathcliff and others (at one point, he puts a kitchen knife in Nelly's mouth).

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