Voice of “Life in the Iron-Mills” by R. H. Davis
Davis, in her Life in the Iron-Mills, depicts the world of industrial capitalism, with class divisions. She especially emphasizes the impossibility of professional or personal development for the middle class. Davis actively criticizes the existing system, thus winning the sympathy of the growing middle class. Limited opportunities for self-realization, which contradict the ideas of American society, are ubiquitous and constitute the reality of the author’s modernity.
Davis notes that the story is set in an industrial city that personifies capitalist society. She invites the reader into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia (Reidhead 1699). Thus, the author immediately expresses his negative attitude towards the existing capitalist order. Davis represents a world of class division, where white workers are deprived of the opportunity to develop and forced to engage in exclusively manual labor.
The working class in the story is presented as a faceless mass of working hands. At the same time, a sharp distinction is drawn with the owners of the mill, who appear as “mysterious class… with the glamor of another order being” (Reidhead 1705). The higher class are educated and free enough to have the life they want and not engage in alienated labor as Hugh.
When Wolfe creates a statue, thereby showing that he has creativity and individuality, he is convinced that class mobility and self-made man are myths. Although he has talent, he is still forced to work in a factory to feed himself. At the same time, members of the higher class can afford to do a variety of activities.
Thus, Davis, through the story, illustrates the reality of the capitalist industrial society. In it, representatives of the middle class are deprived of opportunities for self-realization. At the same time, members of the privileged community enjoy intellectual excellence and build an illusory world of unfulfilled dreams for manual workers. The author criticizes this situation, which is contrary to the ideas of the American society, which makes the test attractive to the audience.
Reidhead, Julia, et al. (eds.). The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.