Deborah, a protagonist of the novella, is a cotton picker in an unnamed industrial city in the American South. Deborah lives with her cousin Hugh, his alcoholic father, and six other families in a cramped house. Like Hugh’s life, Deborah’s life is full of pain and suffering. Despite this, Deborah consistently acts with love and selflessness, since her unrequited love for Hugh propels her existence, much as Hugh’s love of beauty propels his. Deborah is self-conscious about her physical deformity (she has a slight hunchback) and she knows it is one of the reasons why Hugh doesn’t love her. Out of love, she struggles to bring Hugh meals at work and, ultimately, steals money from Mitchell on Hugh’s behalf, which leads both her and Hugh to go to prison. After Hugh dies in prison, Deborah’s life is transformed by the Quaker woman, who helps Deborah escape from industrialized city life and shows her the healing power of nature and Christian love. Away from the vice and hardship of the city, Deborah becomes happy, calm, loving, and humble.
Deborah Character Timeline in Life in the Iron Mills
The timeline below shows where the character Deborah appears in Life in the Iron Mills. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Life in the Iron Mills
...Janey and Hugh’s father are both asleep, though Hugh’s father has clearly been drinking since Deborah left earlier that evening. When Hugh sees little Janey, he decides to finally let go... (full context)
...now-sharpened piece of tin, Hugh calmly cuts his arms and commits suicide. In her cell, Deborah can sense what is happening and tries to convince herself that Hugh “knows best.” Over... (full context)
...arrives and stays longer than the other visitors. She tenderly cares for Hugh’s body as Deborah watches her closely. Eventually, Deborah begs the Quaker woman to bury Hugh in the countryside... (full context)
...Quaker woman was true to her word. The combination of nature and Christian love transforms Deborah into the most loving, calm, humble person in the entire Quaker community. Though her focus... (full context)