A story that takes on some controversial topics in regard to socioeconomic issues within the class structure of America, Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis is a piece that was intended to create social change from the very beginning. The following is a closer look at this story, what life was like for the characters in the tale, as well as the true reason for Davis writing the story.
First and foremost, life for the characters in this tale is far from easy. Due to the fact that they are forced to work in substandard conditions and are struggling to get by, this story is filled with characters who essentially feel that life is a joke. The text states, “You call it an altogether serious thing to be alive: to these men, it is a drunken jest, a joke” (Davis 2). In other words, the characters within this story are so broken that they have essentially taken to self-medicating as a means of survival and very much view life as a game or a joke rather than something to be treasured and taken seriously.
The true purpose of the story seems to be to call to bring attention to the matter of the unfair class structure within the United States. Symbols such as the statue (which was created by Hugh, one of the workers), signify the powerlessness of the working class as well as the fact that the upper-class is unable to perceive this sense of powerlessness.
This certainly seems to be an attempt to undermine the idea of the American dream in that she is essentially pointing out that this dream is a nightmare for some. Given that those who are well-off cannot relate to the struggles of the average worker this makes it implausible that they will ever understand the struggles that these workers face, nor will they do very much to help change the status quo.
Overall, Life in the Iron Mills does an excellent job of shining a light on matters pertaining to the class structure within the United States. By speaking directly to the upper class and giving them a firsthand account of a story that is relatable to most, Davis is calling to question the class structure within America as well as inviting those in positions of power to help empower the lower class.
Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron-Mills. Project Gutenberg. 2008. EBook. Web. 10 Nov. 2016