Davis narrates the story with as much irony as she situates her story close to a nineteenth century factory where her characters were once employed, more importantly, where her male character, Hugh Wolfe who used to live in her home, a lowly Welsh immigrant who finds comfort working for an Iron Mill along with him Deborah—a pathetic, grotesque woman deprived of everything that the word beautiful stands for.
Their tale is set in the city of Wheeling, Virginia where it is portrayed in a gloomy state, perhaps the idea of uneducated men and women that paced back and forth set up a negative feeling, the text “You may pick the Welsh emigrants, Cornish miners, out of the throng passing the windows, any day. They are a trifle more filthy; their muscles are not so brawny, they stoop more. When they are drunk, they neither yell, nor shout, nor stagger, but skulk along like beaten hounds. (Davis, Rebecca Harding. Copyright 1861. “Life in the Iron Mills”) describes the immigrants as poorly as they are deprived of any sort of luxury for the reason that in this time period the type of class you are in defines how other people should look at you, how they treat you, or even how you should live you life, your limitations. Only three people seem to symbolize the head, the heart, and the pocket of the middle-class: Kirby, Mitchell, and Doctor May.
Kirby—being one of the mill owners is the source of abusiveness to the poor workers, Mitchell—being the constant joker, a sarcastic bastard who toyed with Wolfe’s feelings, and Doctor May whom Wolfe trusts despite her lack of will to heal Wolfe’s misery. Denied of free will, focal characters Deborah and Hugh could never really make a choice especially when it came for Hugh to decide if he should return the stolen money or continue to live in guilt.
Back then, hardly does anyone reflect about the wellbeing of other people, alas, when the authorities finally jailed Hugh for his sin it was too late for him to repent for his immorality. Power is symbolized through money and how it separates the upper class from the lower class. It gives the wealthy a place of authority and destroys the unfortunate. Before Hugh committed suicide, he and Deborah spoke one last of their unidealized accent, “It is best, Deb. I cannot bear to be hurted any more. ”—“Hur knows,” she said, humbly.
Tell my father good-by; and–and kiss little Janey. ” (Davis, Rebecca Harding. Copyright 1861. “Life in the Iron Mills”) which, despite its unconventional tongue, seems to say more than how it is read as, simply by saying farewell to Wolfe’s family. Sentimental Characteristics of Life in the Iron Mills In this context, in the midst of all the autocracy and injustice the workers only hope for survival is food. Yet the ‘hunger’ that is often mentioned in the story is not drawn to food alone but to the worker’s hunger for better lives.
His words passed far over the furnace tender’s grasp, toned to suit another class of culture; they sounded in his ears a very pleasant song in an unknown tongue” (85). Davis suggests, in this text, that faith and hope are essential for these people to find happiness. Hugh Wolfe yearns to have a better life so he goes to church and pray for divine providence, yet when he hears the sermon it seemed to him that God only cared for the privileged. Yet, however contemptuous their lives may be and even though Wolfe decided to end his life in the end, certain occurrences have proved worthy of optimism.
After Wolfe was buried, it seems that there is still hope for Deborah, as the text goes, “As the evening wore on, she leaned against the iron bars, looking at the hills that rose far off, through the thick sodden clouds, like a bright, unattainable calm. As she looked, a shadow of their solemn repose fell on her face: its fierce discontent faded into a pitiful, humble quiet. Slow, solemn tears gathered in her eyes: the poor weak eyes turned so hopelessly to the place where Hugh was to rest, the grave heights looking higher and brighter and more solemn than ever before.
The Quaker watched her keenly. She came to her at last, and touched her arm. —“When thee comes back,” she said, in a low, sorrowful tone, like one who speaks from a strong heart deeply moved with remorse or pity, “thee shall begin thy life again,–there on the hills. I came too late; but not for thee,–by God’s help, it may be. ” (Davis, Rebecca Harding. Copyright 1861. “Life in the Iron Mills”) this gives their ending a clearer view of Deborah may have wanted to live her life next after the treacherous event. With hope and the will to step forward and rise.