Hugh Wolfe, one of the novella’s protagonists, is a 32-year-old furnace-tender in an iron mill in the American South. Hugh leads a dismal life of constant labor and terrible living conditions, and he has an overwhelming feeling of being stuck. Despite his sad and unsatisfying life, Hugh possesses an intense craving for beauty and art, which he satisfies somewhat through carving statues out of korl (a byproduct of making iron), as well as through his affections for Janey, a young Irish girl who frequently leans on Hugh for comfort and friendship. Hugh’s admiration for beauty prevents him from returning the affections of his cousin, Deborah, whose devotion to him leads her to steal money so that he might have a better life. Hugh’s desire to live a more beautiful life leads him to keep the stolen money, but this ultimately leads to Hugh’s downfall when he’s sentenced to nineteen years in jail for theft. Hugh quickly goes mad in prison, eventually committing suicide with a piece of tin that he sharpens on the barred windows.
Hugh Character Timeline in Life in the Iron Mills
The timeline below shows where the character Hugh appears in Life in the Iron Mills. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Life in the Iron Mills
The narrator also points out that underpinning Deborah’s selflessness is a deep, enduring love for Hugh and years of trying to please him. Although Hugh is kind to her, Deborah knows... (full context)
The reporter leaves the mill, but Mitchell, Kirby, and Doctor May remain. Hugh begins to compare himself to Mitchell and grows increasingly upset by their apparent differences. While... (full context)
...confused about the statue’s meaning. Mitchell tells him to ask the artist himself, pointing to Hugh (somehow knowing Hugh is the one responsible). Putting on the extra-kind smile that “kind-hearted men... (full context)