Life in the Iron-Mills; Or, The Korl Woman
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Rebecca Harding Davis was considered one of the nation's first social historians and pioneering literary artists. She wrote to find social change for blacks, women, immigrants, and the working class throughout the Civil War. Throughout her long career, Davis challenged traditional subjects and older styles of writing. During her early childhood, her family lived in Florence, Alabama, before moving in 1837 to Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), on the Ohio River. Its iron mills and immigrant populations inspired the setting of Life in the Iron Mills.
Life in the Iron Mills begins with an omniscient narrator who looks out a window and sees smog and iron workers. The gender of the narrator is never known, but it is evident that the narrator is a middle class observer. As the narrator looks out the windowpane, an old story comes to mind; a story of the house that the narrator is living in. The narrator cautions the reader to have an objective mind, and to not be quick to judge the character in the story he/she is about to tell the reader. The narrator begins to introduce Deborah, Wolfe's cousin. She is described as a meek woman who works hard, and has a hump in her back. Deborah finds out from Janey, that Hugh did not take lunch to work, and she decides to walk many miles in the rain to take a lunch for Wolfe. As she walks up to the mills, Deborah begins to describe it as if it were hell, but she keeps going for Wolfe. When she arrives Wolfe is talking among friends and he recognizes her. The narrator explains his affection for her, but also describes his affection as loveless and sympathetic. Hugh finds no time to eat his dinner and goes back to do a day of labor in the mills. Deborah, who is exhausted, stays with Hugh and rests until his shift is over. In the meantime, the narrator further explains that Wolfe does not belong in the environment of the iron mill workers. He is known as "Molly Wolfe" by other workers because of his manner and background in education.
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