Literature and History: The Development of American Culture to 1865

Life in the Iron-Mills:The “Underside of American Prosperity”

“Is this the end?”

O Life, as futile, then, as frail!

What hope of answer or redress?

Life in the Iron-Mills is a reading that is one of the most profound readings we have read so far.  The quote, in the beginning of the story, “Smoke everywhere! A dirty canary chirps desolately in a cage besides me.  Its dream of green fields and sunshine is a very old dream,-almost worn, I think.”  I feel that this quote sets the tone for the rest of the story in how Deborah and Hugh live their lives in this time.  The dirty canary, dirty and covered with dirt and ashes, symbolizes Deborah and Hugh, who are trapped in their lives, in a cage.  They dream of being in another life, a life where they will not work so hard and live in complete turmoil and poverty.  Their dreams of a better life seems to be an old dream of theirs, something they can never attain, and it seems as if they have stopped trying and accept the lives they were given. It is so hard to imagine the lives of Deborah and Hugh while reading this story.  How difficult their lives are just to meet their basic needs.  They work in such harsh and unforgiving conditions and their work never seems to be enough to make ends meet.  As they numb their minds and their bodies, “By night and day the work goes on, the unsleeping engines groan and shriek, the fiery pools of metal boil and surge.”  Throughout the story, I can almost feel their pain that they put their bodies through every day just to survive and the breathless air that they breathe.  They are miserable, and lead lives of unhappiness, empty of excitement or passion.

It is so interesting to read a story about the bad side of industrial revolution.  There are so many stories and history books that boast the inventions and growth that developed at the time.  When, in actuality, so many people were taken advantage of.


One response

  1. this reading was very interesting to me because it touches on the tragic themes of oppression. Even from the very first paragraph the author sets a scene that is bleak and hopeless. A dirt covered town drowning in its own filth and it’s citizens are left choking on the ashes of dead dreams. Deborah and Hugh’s lives represent the lowest and most important people. They are the little man, the one percent, the minorities that work to survive but only benefit the oppressor or larger party. Deborah’s image is a bit over kill, the hump back and all is too much but the way she is described tells you so much about her character. She is a sensible person kind hearted and loyal to her loved ones. She is also desperate for another life, she wishes for Hugh’s love and affection., so she steels from the owners of the mill and gives Hugh the money. Hug’s character is defined by the moment. He envision’s his life becoming better with this one opportunity at true freedom. A life without dirt, a life full of beauty and art. He gives the money back and shows just how humble and strong these people are. They overcome selfish acts and instead accept the lives they live.

    December 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

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