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Close Reading Essay


CloseReading Essay

Lifein the iron mills”is a storyby Rebecca Harding is that tries to portray the various injustices inthe society for people in the low social status,but at the same timetries to show that there is hope for social class reform. The storyfocuses on how uneducated women andmenin the nineteenth century worked in the iron milling factories underdeplorable conditions which reveals the bleak lives of the industrialworkers in America’s mills and factories back then.

Symbolismsin the narrative depict a story written to be more than just fictionwork. This is because Harding’sideasregarding Christian Capitalism are envisaged thought “lifein the iron mills”.With this, she shows how corrupt and flawed the existing economic andsocial models were. The omniscient narrator of the story looks out ofthe window and sees smoke and the toil of the iron workers. Thoughthe narrator’s gender is not told, it’sarguably correct to assumethat he/she is also in the middle class according to how the storyunfolds. The narrator however advises the reader to be objective andnot to be quick in judging the actors in the narrative.This affectsour interpretation of the story in that being a middle class, thenarrator is bound to favor the middle class in his narration, hencethe need for the readerto remain objective.

Lifeon the iron mills”isa tale packed with deeper meanings that are symbolic in the manner inwhich they are depicted. A formalistargument about the symbolic meanings depicted in the story requiresthat we highlight the specific images in the story that will helpexplain all aspects of symbolism in the story. Theuse of symbolism helps a lot in the understanding of the story sincethey connect the activities that were taking place on theground.Inconnection with this we are going to look at some of the symbolismand literary devices used in the story. The symbols employed in theKorl Woman,who is in this case, an important representation of “lifein the iron mils”by symbolizing a number of things were.Hugh whoisone of the main charactersdescribes Deborah as hungrily looking out for something to enable hertosurvive.Additionally,the Korl’s womanostensible longing, as well as, her appearance as a wild, muscledlaborer is parallel to Hugh’s own desires. He is a poor laborer butis also a bystander within the working class just likethe Korl’s woman

Moneyis asymbolism used in the story to relay certain significant information.In this case, it is the money stolen by Deborah is still the reasonthat Hugh gets caught. To Deborah, the money was her ticket out ofmisery but it essentially ends up being the cause of Hugh’s death. The stolen money in this case serves a symbol of how those in theworking class develop socially, in a system that does not valueequality as much as it claims.

Firesymbolism is seenwhereby the iron mills create a scene that appears to symbolize“ahighway in hell”. Firein this case portraysHugh and his fellow laborers as living and working in hell likeconditions that do not inspire any hope. These kinds of conditionscould also be used to symbolize the expectations of those people inthe upper class for the low class worker’s eternal destiny.

Themesthat come out in view ofthe symbols used. As such the theme of socialredemptionis evident in the story is evident whereby hope exists at differentlevels in the whole story. At firstthere is anoverall sense ofhopelessness for Hugh which peaks upon his death. The writer, Davissuggests that if the current social class form remains, thentherewill be no earthly hope for people like him. The ending of the story,however, highlights Davis belief in the existence of an afterlife andeven emphasizes the thought that Deborah willbe socially redeemedwhenshe gets to heaven.

Gendersymbolism is used in the story whereby Davis is seen as astrongactivist of women’s rights. She went further to use issues,such as the korl sculpture and Hugh’s femininity as a wayofsymbolizing the struggle experienced by womankind. Additionally, theQuaker woman plays asignificantpart as the story’s heroine whichalludes to David’s hope in gender equality in the future (Davis52).

Thepresence of smoke in the story can also be seen as symbolic in twocomplementary approaches. The storyteller in a way claims that thecharacterization of the town is smoke. The narrator emphasizes thefact that smoke is something that the lower class are doomed to livewith and are continually, unwillingly breathing it(Davis52). This is further likened to their social status in the societyin that no matter how hard they work, there is not much that can bedone to increase social standing. Still in the same smokesymbolism,members of the upper class on the other hand who live inmore pleasant homesteads, far from the smoke do willingly breathe thesmoke from their cigarettes. This can be seen as a frail attempt bythe upper class members tocomprehendwhat the iron mill workersexperiencein their everyday lives.

Thenarrative thus shows that the existing social situations do notprovide any hope for the majority of the characters on earth that aresymbolized in the story. This saw Davis greatest desire being a wishfor a serious adoption of Christian morals(Davis 51). The manner inwhich the korl made statute is described in this story lacking anyray of beauty in it is in every sense symbolic of how those in theupper class in the society are culturally blind. This can further bealluded to the case of the Doctor in the story, who is a member ofthe social class seems so detached with the plight of the sufferinglaborers. By portraying to us the deplorable living conditions thatthese laborers live in, a call for a change to such atrocities was aprimary symbolic element that Davis emphasized in her narrative.


Davis,R,H.“A Faded Leaf of History.” TheAtlantic Monthly,1873: 44-52. Google Books.Web.16thFeb, 2014.