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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

The Iron Heel begins in the year 2600 A.D., when scholar Anthony Meredith discovers a previously unknown manuscript written centuries before by Avis Everhard, the wife and comrade-in-arms of revolutionary leader Ernest Everhard. Both are figures of historic import and revered as martyrs, having begun a bitter struggle on behalf...

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The Iron Heel begins in the year 2600 A.D., when scholar Anthony Meredith discovers a previously unknown manuscript written centuries before by Avis Everhard, the wife and comrade-in-arms of revolutionary leader Ernest Everhard. Both are figures of historic import and revered as martyrs, having begun a bitter struggle on behalf of mankind in the early twentieth century that has only recently ended in victory.

The manuscript recounts the early stages of the relationship between Ernest, a common laborer, and Avis, the daughter of a Stanford professor, as he helps her to understand the brutal reality of the fate of the American working class by witnessing it first hand. He shows her a country beset by class division, inequality, and every form of the exploitation of labor. The force behind this oppression is the corporate conglomerate known as the Oligarchy or "Iron Heel," an organization whose goal is the creation of a fascist fusion of business and government. Her eyes opened, Avis joins Ernest as lover and political ally in what will become a lifelong war against the Iron Heel.

The pair become involved in socialist politics, becoming members of a party formed from the coalition of the urban labor unions and and the rural agrarian movement, with Ernest eventually running for the Senate under its banner. Although he is one of a wave of socialists swept into office who begin to believe their goals finally within reach, the Oligarchy fights back. Its agent provocateurs stage false flag operations which lead to the suspension of the Constitution. As the Oligarchy consolidates its stranglehold on the populace, forming an army known as the Mercenaries from former state militias, and developing a private, highly-paid group of scab workers in strategic industries such as steel and the railroads, it is they who have finally achieved their goal of creating a fascist state.

After Ernest is falsely accused of setting off a bomb in the Senate building, while making a speech, he is tried by an Oligarchic kangaroo court and sentenced to life in prison. Avis, her life now in danger, is forced to go underground. Many months pass before Ernest is able to escape from prison with the help of political comrades, and make his way to rejoin her, as the couple resume the struggle from the fringes of society.

Meanwhile, the greatest part of the working classes outside of the chosen caste, have been forced into lives of virtual serfdom, enslaved not to land but by machines. They are forced to construct the glittering cities of Ardis and Asgard, where they are housed in squalid barracks sequestered in ghettoes.

The novel ends on a grim note, with the revolutionary pair now forced to become terrorists in their war against an Oligarchy ruling over a horrific, dystopian America, unaware that their vision of social justice will come to prevail in a distant future.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

The Iron Heel is supposedly taken from a fragmentary manuscript written in the early twentieth century by Avis Everhard, the militant socialist widow of the socialist leader Ernest Everhard, whose militancy results in his execution by an American fascistic organization called “the Iron Heel,” the militant arm of the great corporate monopolies. The monopolies suppress an uprising of socialist workers who have organized a Chicago commune and rule the United States until 2232, when socialist power eventually triumphs. Avis had hidden her manuscript away in 1932, and it is not found for seven hundred years, when it is discovered by historian Anthony Meredith. He edits the manuscript and supplies the political history of the United States up to his own time. When the story begins, poverty is rife in big cities in the East such as New York City and Boston, where thousands of people live either in cellars or in flimsy, overcrowded tenements. Unemployment is common, with millions of people out of work. Wages are exceedingly low, and woman and child labor are ruthlessly exploited. The “robber barons” of the age keep consolidating their holdings into “trusts,” or virtual monopolies. A small army of the rich exploits the large army of the poor.

When several socialists are elected to Congress, they are not allowed to take office. Fearful of a general strike, the Iron Heel of the oligarchy creates “favored unions”; explodes a bomb in the House of Representatives; employs “Black Hundreds” (counterrevolutionaries such as those employed by the czarist government in the Russian Revolution) to wreck the socialist presses; and hires mercenary soldiers whose mission is to take over the central government.

Meanwhile, Avis has infiltrated the Iron Heel’s intelligence agency as a “mole,” or double agent. She is then caught in the bloody massacre of “the people of the abyss,” the socialist mob of the Chicago commune, and she nearly loses her life. Eventually the fascists triumph and take over the government of the United States. They rule for three hundred years, or until the year 2237.

The memoir Avis began writing in 1932 marks a time when the American socialists have started a counterrevolution against the fascist oligarchy. However, fearing for her own life she hides her memoir, and it is not recovered for seven hundred years. Meanwhile, the American socialists have defeated the fascists and have established the utopia of the Brotherhood of Man. The socialist historian Anthony Meredith has discovered Avis’s memoir, the “Everhard manuscript,” and has edited, annotated, and published it in the year 2632.

Among the revelations of Meredith is that just before World War I, the American oligarchy wanted war with Germany for “a dozen reasons,” mainly because such a war “would reshuffle the international cards” and no doubt put the Americans in full possession of the world market. Hence, on December 4, 1912, a German fleet attacked the American navy at Honolulu, sinking three American cruisers and a cutter and bombarding the city. The next day, both Germany and the United States declare war on each other. However, in the meantime, cables are passing back and forth across the Atlantic between the German and the American socialists, both bodies finally favoring a general strike against both governments to stop the war. In the end, the strike aborted the war altogether.

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