Life in the Iron Mills
Sentimentalism in the novel Life in the Iron Mills can be found in the artistic expressions of the character Hugh Wolfe. Hugh is a laborer in an iron mill who spends his days stirring molten iron that will be made into wrought iron through a process called puddling. Although his character and most of those depicted as laborers are uneducated and often mentality and physically stunted, Hugh breaks out of the mold with his use of the iron waste to create sculptures. Upper class citizens eventually see his work and through their discussion the reader understands that art in itself is an expression of a higher self; it is in a way the embodiment of Hugh’s desires to live a fuller life. This sentimental aspect of the novel works to create an underlying theme that laborers and lower class people are in fact capable of much more than society has allowed them.
A more realist aspect of the novel comes from the backdrop of the iron mills themselves and the daily work of the laborers. The supporting characters in charge of the mills, such as Clarke Kirby and Mitchell also support the realist theme in that those of the upper class were virtually unwilling to view their workers as anything but a means to make money. In a sense, the physicality of the mills went a long way towards establishing a bleak outlook on laborer life and expectations for the future. The setting provided the perfect realist aspect to the story by way of its unchanging façade throughout any character development. The mills to the characters within them were like logic looking upon hope and never faltering.