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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

Some quotes from "Life in the Iron Mills" are:

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A reality of soul-starvation, of living death, that meets you every day under the besotted faces on the street,—I can paint nothing of this, only give you the outside outlines of a night, a crisis in the life of one man.

The above quote highlights the main theme of the story: the life of hopeless degradation endured by members of the impoverished working class in 19th century America. In her story, Rebecca Harding Davis documents an overwhelming soul-thirst that grips one man: Hugh Wolfe, a puddler in an iron-works factory who yearns to break free from the vile coarseness of the life he must live. The narrator begs us not to judge Hugh for succumbing to temptation and taking Mitchell's money. She points us to the "slow, heavy years of constant, hot work" that Hugh has endured and asks us to judge accordingly.

The idiosyncrasy of this town is smoke.

The narrator tells us that his town is filled with smoke and that smoke engulfs every object, place, and building as far as he can see. Most poignantly, smoke "begrimes" every iron workers' "skin and muscle and flesh." When not toiling in the factories, many men drink themselves to oblivion, in order to forget the misery of their daily lives. Davis suggests that the smoke symbolizes both physical and spiritual enervation. The "idiosyncrasy" or distinctive feature of the town is indeed smoke: there is no escape from it. Thus, there is no reprieve from the burdensome lives its inhabitants must live.

I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me,—here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear this story.

Sin, as he defined it, was a real foe to them; their trials, temptations, were his. His words passed far over the furnace-tender’s grasp, toned to suit another class of culture...

In the first quote, Harding Davis highlights the toll inflicted on an unsuspecting population during the...

(The entire section contains 518 words.)

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