Life in the Iron-Mills


Life in the Iron Mills is a perfect example of new realism and reform writing, and the short story demonstrate so. In this paper, there will be illustrations on the short story of the “Life in the Iron-Mills” that depicts realism and reform. Therefore, ideas of authenticity and change started during the periods of American civil war, the industrial revolution, and feminism.


According to Rebecca Davis, the life in the Iron Mills was so much unbearable during the industrial revolution. In her short story, she demonstrates how Hugh Wolfe, one the factory workers were treated together with his co-worker Deborah. The story describes the gloomy state of affairs for the workers who were mostly immigrants from Europe in the Ninetieth century. The immigrants were deprived of any luxury by the upper class and middle class who were their primary source of stress (Greenblatt and Carol 1230).

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Some of the significant characters used by Davis in the story are Doctor may, Mitchell and Kirby. Kirby was a primary source of abuse to many poor factory workers while Mitchell was a sarcastic bastard who used to joke and to play around with Wolfe’s feelings. That notwithstanding, Wolfe trusted him although May never made any effort to salvage his situation. Freedom was unheard of for the factory workers and money symbolized power as it was the thin line which separated the lower class from the upper level. Hence, Hugh and Deborah suffered not only from hunger for food but also for better life. Out of desperation and lack of hope, Hugh committed suicide while Debora was pitiful as the events unfolded (Greenblatt and Carol 1236).


Towards the end of her novel, Davis is skeptical of any changes at sight because the upper class is always harsh to the lower level. Moreover, Davis foresees a better life for the lower class in the afterlife and minimal reforms if any in the social class. Christianity is seen as an ideal source of hope because it preaches morality and social transformation in the society. Equally, she believes that Christianity has been a significant source of confidence in the advancement of the American community. Also, Davis laments about the future life of the poor because she foresees no remedy of social transformation on sight. In the novella, the upper class is not interested in the idea of Hugh advancing socially because they feel it is none of their business. The positive tone of the novel depicts how Hugh and Debora were mistreated and the dire need for change to help the poor. Hence, the significant reforms that are recommended by Davis are the adoption of Christianity to help curb the tensions that exist among the social class. In addition, the passage of Christian morals will bring hope to the existing social level and reduce suffering on earth and more especially in America which respects the freedom of worship. At the end of the novel, Davis uses the famous words “promise of dawn” which encourage humanity to embrace social justice (Scheiber 110).


Life in the Iron-Mills by Rebecca Davis demonstrates the existence of social classes in the society and the need for social change. This paper has discussed Life in the Iron-Mills as an example of new realism and reform writing with clear illustrations from the story by using the main characters, Hugh and Debora. Therefore, the novel has succinctly demonstrated the writing is of realism and reform.


Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, and Carol T. Christ, eds. The Norton anthology of English literature. WW Norton & Company, 2012.

Scheiber, Andrew J. “An Unknown Infrastructure: Gender, Production, and Aesthetic Exchange in Rebecca Harding Davis’s” Life in the Iron-Mills”.” Legacy (1994): 101-117.

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