The Iron Mill By Rebecca Harding Davis

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In Life in the Iron Mills, Rebecca Harding Davis tells the story of Hugh Wolfe, a lower-class man whose love of beauty and desire to move up in the world ultimately leads to his mental decline and demise. Wolfe lives in a town of smothering grey smog and works in an iron mill reminiscent of Hell, places that induce hopelessness and despair by appearance. In contrast to his surroundings, Wolfe possesses a fierce love of beauty and a talent of sculpting with korl, both of which are frequently associated with higher socioeconomic classes. Initially, it appears that Davis means to reinforce the common associations of beauty with the upper class and unseemliness with the lower class. In the story, beauty can be associated with the upper class characters through their polished appearances and admiration of art, inciting a positive association in response to beautiful imagery; unseemliness, on the other hand, can be associated with the lower class and negative feelings because the mill is reminiscent of hell and the characters are generally unattractive. However, when looked at with a closer lens, it appears the story cannot be taken at face value and the typical feelings surrounding beauty and ugliness do not apply in the story. Appearances can be deceiving: within Life in the Iron Mills, ugliness represents opportunity whereas the beauty serves as a distraction. By juxtaposing unsightly and attractive, Davis shows that mobility is possible only through unattractive, hard work

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