Hindley's Cruelty in Wuthering Heights

Updated on January 1, 2018
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Athlyn Green is an avid reader and discusses literary gems she's discovered with fellow enthusiasts.

Who Truly Was the Black Villain at the Heights?

Heathcliff has been maligned as a sociopath or a vicious psychopath, and while he did show cruelty to those he felt had wronged him, others showed cruelty to those innocent of any transgressions against them, and they showed this cruelty to an appalling degree.

Author Emily Bronte, through her character portrayals, shows that others were incredibly cruel, especially when there was no just cause for it.

This article explores Hindley Earnshaw's cruel treatment of Heathcliff. We will do a comparison of Hindley's behavior to Heathcliff's to gain greater insights about this novel.

Instant Opposition

Imagine being a young child, thrust into a family where you don't understand what is being said, where a teenager picks on you. Such was Heathcliff's introduction into the Earnshaw family.

Reaction to Heathcliff

Hindley is a lad of 14 when his father returns home from a trip and brings home an orphaned boy and introduces him to both Hindley and his sister, Cathy. Mr. Earnshaw had promised Hindley a fiddle and Cathy a whip, but Hindley's fiddle was broken and Cathy's whip had been lost. While Cathy grins and spits at Heathcliff, Hindley blubbers.

This difference between Cathy's reaction and Hindley's sets the stage for what is to follow. And whereas Cathy soon becomes close to Heathcliff, Hindley, instead of feeling compassion for a child half his age, instead of welcoming him as a brother, hates him and continually torments him. This progresses into blows, which Heathcliff endures stoically.

Continued Persecution

Imagine a person twice your age striking you repeatedly. You have no place to run to, no means of support, so you are stuck.

Off, dog! I pray that he may break your neck... be damned, you beggarly interloper! I hope he’ll kick out your brains!

— Hindley

Two Years of Torment for Heathcliff

Two years pass and in this time Hindley's hatred only grows. He views Heathcliff as a usurper of affection and privileges.

Blows progress to thrashings, and when Heathcliff says,"I shall tell your father of the three thrashings you’ve given me this week, and show him my arm, which is black to the shoulder." Hindley cuffs Heathcliff, calls him a dog, and shows murderous intent by throwing a heavy iron weight at Heathcliff's chest, which knocks Heathcliff to the ground. When he manages to stagger to his feet, Hindley knocks him under a horse's hooves, hoping Heathcliff will be trampled to death.

It's frightening to think that a 16-year-old would be willing to murder a child. One can see heartless psychopath or at the very least, ruthless sociopath written all over Hindley.

Hindley's scorn for Heathcliff is so entrenched and so obvious, the curate suggests that Hindley be sent away. Mr. Earnshaw agrees and sends his son off to college for three years.

Degraded and Brought Low

Imagine being treated like a servant, denied an education, and forced to labor out-of-doors.

Heathcliff, you may come forward... You may come and wish Miss Catherine welcome, like the other servants.

— Hindley

Hindley Returns Three Years Later

Mr. Earnsaw dies and Hindley returns home for the funeral with a wife in tow.

When his wife expresses her dislike of Heathcliff, Hindley's hatred is roused again and he drives Heathcliff out of the house to lodge with the servants, deprives him of an education, makes him labor out-of-doors, and over the slightest pretext orders Heathcliff to be flogged.

When Catherine stays over at the neighboring Thrushcross Grange for five weeks, Hindley tells Heathcliff that if he is caught speaking to her, he will be sent away at once. Hindley knows what a torment having no contact with Catherine is for Heathcliff.

Hindley Tries to Turn Heathcliff into a Brute

Hindley is determined to rob Heathcliff of every opportunity to succeed in life and with Cathy.

Hindley sees to it that Heathcliff is flogged.
Hindley sees to it that Heathcliff is flogged.


Imagine being embarrassed in front of the only person you love.

Hindley Embarrasses Heathcliff

When Catherine returns home, Hindley and his wife plot to see how they can separate Heathcliff and Catherine.

When Hindley sees that Heathcliff notices that Catherine is dressed like a lady and hangs back, aware he himself is filthy from working out in the muck and mire, Hindley urges him forward, enjoying Heathcliff's discomfiture.

"You may come and wish Miss Catherine welcome, like the other servants," Hindley says and tells Heathcliff to shake hands with Catherine. Heathcliff refuses and retreats while Hindley and his wife laugh at him.

I shall not stand to be laughed at. I shall not bear it!

— Heathcliff

"Keep the fellow out of the room—send him into the garret till dinner is over."

Hindley sees to it that Heathcliff gets no Christmas dinner, nor gets to be with the other youths.
Hindley sees to it that Heathcliff gets no Christmas dinner, nor gets to be with the other youths.

Beaten at Christmas

Imagine spending Christmas morning by yourself out on the moors, with no presents and no companionship.

Later, you are ridiculed, beaten and locked away, denied Christmas dinner, and you hear people feasting, laughing, and making merry. You hear a brass band arrive, then hear lively music below and the occupants dancing.

You sit by yourself, beaten and cut off from human contact, an outcast, as you've always been.

Heathcliff is in low spirits, knowing that Catherine, after spending time at Thrushcross Grange, has found new friends, the Lintons. He knows he can never hope to compete with Edgar Linton's wealth and social standing, with his education and breeding, with his cleanliness and fine clothes. Heathcliff now has a new worry: Edgar will be a rival for Catherine's affections.

Nelly comes to his rescue and builds up his self-esteem, convincing him to clean himself up, so that he won't feel inferior. Heathcliff does so and dons one of Mr. Earnshaw's suits and is in better spirits when the Linton's call.

Hindley spots Heathcliff dressed up and sets out to embarrass him in front of everyone, claiming he is attempting the coxcomb (trying to be a dandy). He roughly shoves him back and orders he be taken out of the room and confined to the garret until dark. When Hindley notices Heathcliff's groomed hair, he threatens to pull it.

Edgar Linton remarks on Heathcliff's long hair and Heathcliff flings hot apple sauce all over his perceived rival.

Hindley grabs Heathcliff and uses this as an excuse to beat him with his fists and he locks him away for the evening.

"That brute of a lad has warmed me nicely. Next time, Master Edgar, take the law into your own fists—it will give you an appetite!"

Hindley's remarks about beating Heathcliff.
Hindley's remarks about beating Heathcliff.

After Hindley's Wife Dies, He is Diabolical in His Treatment of Heathcliff

Nelly relates that Hindley's treatment of Heathcliff would have made a fiend of a saint.

Heathcliff endures all of it and stays because of his love for Catherine, but when he feels she, too, has forsaken him, that is the final straw, and he disappears and is gone for three years.

Heathcliff Returns to the Heights

Heathcliff returns a gentleman and seeks out Catherine.
Heathcliff returns a gentleman and seeks out Catherine. | Source

Heathcliff's Return

Heathcliff acquires wealth and transforms his rough outward appearance.

He goes to Wuthering Heights in search of Catherine, dressed as a gentleman, and Hindley, curious about Heathcliff's obvious change in circumstances, invites him inside. Heathcliff beats Hindley at cards. When Hindley sees Heathcliff has lots of money, he invites him to return. Heathcliff offers to pay a generous amount to rent out Catherine's old bedroom, so that he ca go over to Thrushcross Grange to see Catherine (who is now married to Edgar). Hindley readily agrees, his eye on making a goodly amount to fund his questionable habits.

Hindley continues his course of dissipation and Heathcliff takes advantage and keeps lending Hindley money, eventually to the point that Hindley offers his land as collateral; and thus, Heathcliff positions himself to slowly gain control of Wuthering Heights.

Comparing Cruelty

He ridicules Heathcliff and calls him derogatory names.
He outsmarts Hindley at cards.
He cuffs, strikes and leaves huge bruises on Heathcliff and early on tries to kill him.
He and Hindley stay up all night at dice and gaming
He orders continual floggings and he beats Heathcliff with his fists.
He loans Hindley money.
He plans to shoot Heathcliff if he finds his bedroom door unlocked and he checks each night, to this end.
He continues to loan Hindley money, so that he becomes indebted to him.
He locks Heathcliff out and draws his pistol, planning to shoot and kill him, when Heathcliff tries to break in.
Heathcliff grabs the gun and while Hindley is unconscious, kicks and tramples him, dashing his head against the flags, but he holds off on killing him and even binds Hindley's bleeding wrist.
Hindley locks Heathcliff out of the house again and spends the night drinking.
Heathcliff sends Joseph to get the doctor and is alone with Hindley. Nelly and Jospeh wonder if he murdered him, because Hindley is dead when the doctor arrives. Heathcliff gains control of Wuthering heights because Hindley mortgaged all the land he owned and Heathcliff was the mortgagee.

Who do you think was more cruel?

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When one considers Hindley's cruelty in Wuthering Heights, it's shocking. Bronte did a remarkable job of showing the innate character traits of key players in this novel.

© 2017 Athlyn Green

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