The Ideology of Self-making and the White Working Class in Rebecca Harding Davis’ "Life in the Iron Mills"
AuthorsMartinicorena Zaratiegui, Sofía
IdentifiersPermanent link (URI): http://hdl.handle.net/10017/49275
REDEN: revista española de estudios norteamericanos, n.2 (2020), pp. 59-68, ISSN 2695-4168
Atribución 4.0 Internacional
Rebecca Harding Davis’ novella Life in the Iron Mills, published in 1861 in The Atlantic Monthly, is now considered a landmark of early American realism. This paper analyses the text’s depiction of the white working class and the ideological consequences of the myth of upward mobility and self-making, which are presented as an impossibility to Hugh Wolfe, the story’s main character. I will argue that Davis’ choice to offer a representation of the precarious lives of the workers of Northern industrial capitalism implies a criticism of the quintessentially American narrative of upward mobility, and a subsequent reflection on how foundational narratives operate in a society that is not homogeneous in terms of race or class. More specifically, I will maintain that Life in the Iron Mills operates as a contestation to the myth of the self-made man, evinced by the comparison between Hugh Wolfe’s situation and that of the mill owners, who encourage his aspirations from an oblivious position of privilege. Lastly, Hugh’s tragic death will be taken as proof that the myth of self-making mystifies the actual social and economic dynamics of industrial capitalism.