“Life in the Iron Mills”

The book was first released in 1961 by Atlantic Monthly, and it quickly vanished before being reprinted by the feminist press in 1972. While it lasted, Harding Davis's work was greatly admired for its importance and for giving an early account of the moral and societal costs of industrialization. The narrative also served as an important meditation on the role of artists during times of industrial capitalism. The story covered by this book remains quite ambivalent about the author’s idea that in solving disparity and degradation of work class, the solution must emanate from the workers themselves. The author points out that the solution to the problem of class may come in some revolution. Sympathy, however, cannot bridge the gap between the workers in the factory and their helpers. On the other hand, the story also suggests that non-violent reforms to class disparity can also be accomplished and its so evidenced by Quaker's success while transforming Deb's life, through " long year of sunshine, and fresh air, and slow, patient, Christ love"1

1 Rebecca Harding Davis. Life in the Iron-Mills or The Korl Woman. 1861

To illustrate the class conflict in the American culture, Davis guides her readers through the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. The chance gives the author the freedom of illustrating the how the lower social class is oppressed in a vivid and moving manner. The story is written by members of the middle and upper class seeking to create changes within the American class culture. Davis uses the machinery image in making the readers understand the oppression of the lower social class who are left with nothing but to work for their constant necessities.2 Mitchell was, therefore, seeking to escape the social abuse and was hungry for freedom and the upper-class individuals cannot see the imagery since they don't understand what it means to be oppressed.

“Life in the Iron Mills” by Rebecca Harding is a story of feminism in the factories. The story was written in a time when women yearned for social acceptance and distinction in the society. Throughout the book, Harding shows the progressive strength of women. The women were considered of little importance to the society. The article as well portrays women to be inferior to their male counterparts as displayed by Deborah who feels she is working in harsh conditions and malnutrition. She has to pack the dinner and make it delivered to Wolfe despite the falling rain and freezing temperatures. With the progression of the story, male and female roles seem to blur. It is marked by Wolfe changing his name to Molly Wolfe after losing strength and instinct vigor of man due to the ascending status of feminine in the community.3

2 Rebecca Harding Davis. Life in the Iron-Mills or The Korl Woman. 1861

3 Ibid., 32

Much of the work by Rebecca revolves around wage slavery which focuses on the actions taken by the workers who get paid for their labor in terms that are almost similar to the workers forced to do the labor. The book is centered on two immigrants who struggle to manage their low paying jobs. The separation between the two groups of men working in the mill is based on the class and also extracts inspiration from the differences between the white and black men during the instance of slavery in America. When the men of middle class remain in the mill while it’s raining, the differences between the different groups are exemplified contributed by race. Kirby, the mill owner, is depicted to have other two men of the middle social class, Doctor May and Mitchell, these two individuals clean and have higher levels of education unlike the unskilled workers in the mill. The middles class, which happens to be a different race are superior over the mill workers. The mill worker wears worn out clothes with their body covered in black ash, equivalently making their body look black, unlike their superiors. The depiction equates the mill workers to the African American slaves thus tend to ignore the differences between the two states.

Southern slavery in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The author of this article sets remarkable incidences in the slavery life of female American. The parts of the narrative are set by direct appeal to women and focusing on the struggles that girls go through during slavery. Much of the book focuses on Linda’s teenage trials of escaping from the Clutched of Dr. Clint, who tend to harass and abuse her in manners difficult to read.4

On the racial consideration, Jacobs was specifically writing for the Northern white

4 Meghan N.Manfra. Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl. North Carolina State University. 2008

women who were considered to be in the “cult of true womanhood” In this case, the women’s

role included being submissive to their superiors, being pure, pious and domestic. Slavery, as shown by Jacobs, violates the principles of what women were supposed to be. The female slaves were denied the Christian education; they are subjected to violent separation from their families, and most traumatizing, they are turned into sexual objects. At some points, the female gender faced rape and other forms of sexual abuses that were too shocking. It also failed to help the salves after publishing a book in pseudonym after begging the introduction from a famous American writer going with the name Lydia Maria Childs. In a similar manner with the Harding’s "Life in the Mills," Harriet accounts for the horrors of slavery where mothers are separated from their families and children and any sense of humanity is kicked out by the slaveholders.

While addressing gender concerns, men have been portrayed as playing a diminished role in the same way as "Life in the Mills." Men in this story are also seen to lose strength and vigor of man when Harriet's uncle, Benjamin refuses to defend her in the cruel treatment and instead runs away to the north. Instead, Harriet is helped by her grandmother who frees another man as well, Philips. In the story, both women and men are not allowed to marry whom they like, not at all. Often, women are forced to sleep with the masters whom they despise.5

According to the book, there is only one intact black family who doesn't have a residence in the south. It, therefore, contrasts the situations of other black American families who are subjected to slavery.

5 Meghan N.Manfra. Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl. North Carolina State University. 2008

The blacks in the story are struggling to keep their families together.

The black women are not allowed to raise their children. However, they can meet other women barred from attending to their children. The black women are made sexual objects by the white men to the extent of fathering a child with them, but they feel no parental obligations.


“Life in the Mills” by Rebecca Harding and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the life of a slave girl both depict the pathetic workers in the early 19th Century. Both of these books shed light on the experiences of workers based on the social class, gender, race and even the regional differences since different workers and persons are accorded different treatments.


Meghan N.Manfra. Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl. North

Carolina State University. 2008

Rebecca Harding Davis. Life in the Iron-Mills or The Korl Woman. 1861

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