Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475
The unnamed narrator : the omniscient narrator of the story begins by telling us that he lives in a town dominated by ironworks. It is he/she who tells us the story of the Wolfe family. At present, the narrator lives in the house that was occupied by the Wolfe family...
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- Critical Essays
The unnamed narrator: the omniscient narrator of the story begins by telling us that he lives in a town dominated by ironworks. It is he/she who tells us the story of the Wolfe family. At present, the narrator lives in the house that was occupied by the Wolfe family thirty years earlier.
Deborah Wolfe: Deborah is Hugh's cousin. She works as a picker in a cotton mill. Most men find Deborah unattractive because she is slightly hunchbacked. In the story, she is attracted to Hugh, but he does not share her feelings. It is Deborah who steals a wad of cash from Mitchell to give to Hugh. We learn that she serves three years in prison for larceny. After she is released, Deborah goes to live with the Quakers.
Hugh Wolfe: Hugh is Old Wolfe's son. He works in one of Kirby and John's iron mills. Hugh's overriding ambition in life is to escape the terrible iron mills and to enjoy a better existence. His favorite pastime is carving figurines from blocks of korl, an iron ore by-product. From his art, Hugh receives the validation that his life's work has not been wasted. Later, he takes the money Deborah stole from Mitchell. Because the money was found on his person, Hugh is sentenced to serve nineteen years of hard labor in a penitentiary. Sensing that his tuberculosis may be incurable, he commits suicide in prison.
Old Wolfe: Old Wolfe is Hugh's father. Like Hugh, he also works in one of Kirby and John's iron mills. Old Wolfe is described as a pale, timid man.
Janey: Janey is a neighbor child who occasionally sleeps at the Wolfe residence when her father is not home.
Clark Kirby (the son of one of the mill-owners): The young Kirby is mostly indifferent to the suffering his father's iron workers endure on a daily basis. When Dr. May compliments Hugh's workmanship, Clark makes a derogatory comment about the intelligence of iron workers. He shows obvious disdain for Hugh, both as an iron worker and a sculptor. Clark is the stereotypical factory owner's son, perhaps even a caricature of bourgeois arrogance and apathy.
Dr. May: Dr. May is one of the town physicians. He is fascinated by Hugh's talents. However, when Hugh asks for help to pursue his passions, Dr. May says that he does not have the financial means to do so.
Mitchell (a reporter from a Northern newspaper): Mitchell is Clark's brother-in-law. As a student of the institutions of the South, Mitchell has a keen eye for observation. It is Mitchell who equates the mill's smoldering fires to the "half-shut eyes of wild beasts." Mitchell is the most open-minded of the mill visitors, and he prides himself on his anatomical eye. Of the visitors, Mitchell is the first to correctly interpret the meaning of the sculpture's facial expression.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408
The narrator, an unnamed individual of unspecified gender, obviously a member of the privileged class. For some reason, this person has settled in a working-class area of a mill town, in the house where the two protagonists of the story once lived. He or she owns the statue of the “korl woman.”
Hugh Wolfe, a nineteen-year-old iron mill furnace tender. Born into poverty and a mill worker since childhood, he is undernourished and tubercular. Because he does not indulge in vicious pastimes, he is considered effeminate by his fellow workers. His kindness has earned him the love of his cousin Deborah and the young Janey. When upper-class visitors to the mill praise his skill at carving, Hugh thinks that a better life might be possible, and he keeps the stolen money Deborah gives him. Arrested for the theft and sentenced to prison, he commits suicide.
Deborah, Hugh’s cousin, a cotton mill worker. She is called “the hunchback” because of her deformity. Her love for Hugh is the central truth in her life. To help him, she steals a pocketbook from the wealthy Mitchell. As Hugh’s supposed accessory, she receives only a short prison sentence. After her release, she is taken in by a Quaker woman and spends the rest of her life in a mountain settlement.
Janey, a young Irish girl. She is important primarily as the focus of Hugh’s dreams. Although he knows that she will soon lose her health and her beauty, he imagines having enough money to make a decent life with her. Meanwhile, he is her protector.
Young Kirby, the son of the man who owns the iron mill where Hugh works. He despises and fears his employees, whom he views as subhuman, and believes that his only responsibility to them is to make sure that they are paid.
Mitchell, young Kirby’s brother-in-law. A wealthy dilettante, he has no convictions and sees the world as a place constructed solely for his amusement. Mitchell refuses to help Hugh fulfill his artistic ambitions and later prosecutes him for the theft of his pocketbook.
Doctor May, a friend of young Kirby. A sentimentalist, he thinks that by speaking kindly to Hugh, he is fulfilling his duty to humanity. He refuses to give Hugh financial backing. Reading of Hugh’s sentence, he is offended by what he terms the young man’s ingratitude.