The year was 1848, a seemingly average year for most Americans, and Rebecca Harding Davis had just graduated from the Washington Female Seminary and moved back home to Wheeling, West Virginia to live with her family. Simultaneously, an unknown storm was brewing in Seneca Falls, New York, where Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were leading the first woman’s rights convention that would stamp history as the beginning of a long fight for gender equality (Tichi 28). Davis’s first published work, Life in the Iron-Mills, is a novella focused on the crippling social issues of the nineteenth century that plagued the working class. Most importantly, however, is Davis’s unveiling of the dull, exhausting, and abused existence of women belonging to such a caste and the injustices they faced due to gender and class inequality. Through Deb, the author illustrates a woman’s view in a man’s world, and demands enough attention from the public to stimulate a necessary conversation pertaining to such discrimination.
To begin, Davis displays the vulgar working conditions of women dwelling in poverty at the beginning of her novella when the narrator introduces Deb. As she is walking home with her co-workers from the cotton-mill, the narrator reveals the time to be 11 o’clock at night. Considering her day’s work is still not over so late in the evening proves Deb’s resilient work ethic and the unfavorable conditions of her job. It is also revealed that “when she walked, one could see she was deformed, almost a hunchback” (Davis 43). In a superior class, most people would use this handicap as an excuse to remain unemployed, but unemployment for Deb would be detrimental to her survival. ...
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...r gray dress, her worn face, pure and meek, turned now and then to the sky. A woman much loved by these silent, restful people, more silent then they, more humble, more loving. (Davis 73)
In a land of loving companions, sunshine, and far less work, Deb feels the acceptance and gratitude that she could never possess as a mill-worker. Thoughts of fresh air and content, simple company were an unrealistic paradise for the women of labor, but through luck and undesirable circumstances, it became a reality for Deb.
Therefore, although she was a woman of little financial struggles herself, Davis heard the desperate cries for help from the penniless and underprivileged and responded with a powerful story. A story not just about one woman, in one city, in one mill, but about a whole population of laborers, giving them the recognition they needed to gain crucial reform.
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