Life in the Iron Mills

by

Rebecca Harding Davis

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Doctor May Character Analysis

Doctor John May, known as Doctor May, is the local physician who visits the mill with Kirby, Mitchell, and the reporter. He is unable to step out of his mindset as an upper-class doctor. He can’t find a deeper meaning in Hugh’s statue, as he is preoccupied by the statue’s accurate musculature. Doctor May thinks highly of himself and considers speaking kindly to Hugh to be a great act of charity. When Hugh asks Doctor May to help him, Doctor May is ultimately unwilling to put his encouraging words into action, revealing the novella’s sharp critique of positive words that are not backed by positive actions. Although he outwardly scoffs at Mitchell’s assertion that the workers need to rise up on their own accord without outside help, he inwardly accepts this idea and does nothing to help the workers except pray that they have the strength to revolt on their own.
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Doctor May Character Timeline in Life in the Iron Mills

The timeline below shows where the character Doctor May 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
Coping and Relief Theme Icon
...men: Clarke Kirby (the overseer and the son of one of the mill owners) and Doctor May (a local physician). Among them is a newspaper reporter and another gentleman, both of whom... (full context)
Coping and Relief Theme Icon
The reporter leaves the mill, but Mitchell, Kirby, and Doctor May remain. Hugh begins to compare himself to Mitchell and grows increasingly upset by their apparent... (full context)
The City vs. The Country Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
After an hour, Mitchell, Kirby and Doctor May prepare to leave. As they turn the corner to exit the mill, they are startled... (full context)
The Power of Art Theme Icon
...statue’s “poignant longing” and “one idea” that seems hidden in the woman’s limbs and expression. Doctor May is more preoccupied with the statue’s accurate musculature. Flippant about the statue’s artistry, Kirby says... (full context)
The City vs. The Country Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Doctor May is confused about the statue’s meaning. Mitchell tells him to ask the artist himself, pointing... (full context)
The City vs. The Country Theme Icon
Doctor May asks Kirby how many of the other workers are artists and what Kirby plans to... (full context)
Words vs. Actions Theme Icon
...further, Mitchell quotes scripture and compares Kirby to Pontius Pilate. Mitchell also quotes scripture for Doctor May , reminding him that in the Bible, Jesus says, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto... (full context)
Words vs. Actions Theme Icon
Doctor May thinks that “much good” can come out of speaking to Hugh encouragingly. He tells Hugh... (full context)
Words vs. Actions Theme Icon
Hugh is moved by the encouragement and asks Doctor May to help him. Doctor May quickly shrinks back, claiming he doesn’t have the finances to... (full context)
The City vs. The Country Theme Icon
...Cynically, Mitchell agrees, calling money the solution to all the world’s problems. He sarcastically tells Doctor May to preach “Saint-Simonian doctrines” to the workers the following day so that they will revolt... (full context)
Words vs. Actions Theme Icon
As Mitchell, Kirby, and Doctor May wait for their coach, Mitchell asserts that the workers must produce their own leader and... (full context)
Words vs. Actions Theme Icon
Mitchell, Kirby, and Doctor May prepare to leave. As a parting word, Doctor May reminds Hugh that “it was his... (full context)
Coping and Relief Theme Icon
After the men depart, Hugh is in agony. Somehow the conversation with Mitchell and Doctor May made him see his life in a new, terrible light, and all of his pain... (full context)
Coping and Relief Theme Icon
Words vs. Actions Theme Icon
...to Mitchell, but Deborah tells him it is his “right to keep it,” echoing what Doctor May said about it being his right to rise up. (full context)
The City vs. The Country Theme Icon
Words vs. Actions Theme Icon
The narrator interjects, revealing that Hugh was convicted of theft by morning. A month later, Doctor May reads in the newspaper that Hugh was sentenced to nineteen years in prison. Doctor May... (full context)