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Life in the Iron Mills & How the Other Half Lives

The purpose of this research is to examine ways in which language and photography achieve power as instruments of social comment and critique, with reference to a novella, Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis, and to commentary and photographs in How the Other Half Lives, written by Jacob A. Riis. The plan of the research will be to set forth in general terms the narrative strategy of Davis's work and critical thesis of Riis's commentary and then to discuss particular features of linguistic choices and visual composition that lend power to the message contained in the narrative.

The pattern of ideas in Life in the Iron Mills is dominated by a reformist ethos that borders on the revolutionary. From the first paragraph of the narrative onward, the strategy is clear: to describe a set of conditions in such in harsh, unremitting, uncomfortable detail that any attentive reader would be moved to action against the conditions. The overarching message, implicit not only in the details of environment but also in the details of human experience and psychology within that environment, is that these conditions must be altered and that they can be altered. The principal assumption that Davis brings to the narrative is moral and more, that the same moral assumptions are brought to the reading enterprise by the reader.

The moral climate of Life in the Iron Mills is the foundation of its linguistic power, and once it is clear that both writer and readers share the same general Weltanschauung, or world view, the literary/narrative point of view becomes significant. In these days of the ready availability of cinematic and dramaturgic literary forms, plus the kind of see-it-now reportage typical of the nightly news, talk shows, and true-life film documentaries, the present tense for extended narrative of immediate and striking or shocking experience is familiar. However, in Life in the Iron Mills, this point of view has the effect o...

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Life in the Iron Mills & How the Other Half Lives. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:20, May 28, 2020, from