The unnamed narrator, who tells the novella’s central story from thirty years in the future, lives in the same house that Hugh, Deborah, and Hugh’s father lived in (although the narrator lives in the whole house, while the Wolfes only inhabited two of the cellar rooms). Living in the Wolfes’ old house means that the narrator possesses the statue of the hungry woman that Hugh carved, which is the catalyst for the narrator telling Hugh and Deborah’s story. The narrator positions him- or herself as an expert on factory workers, even though the narrator doesn’t seem to be one. As the house suggests, the narrator seems somewhat privileged, and his or her nuanced and articulate observations about industrial life position him or her to reach an equally privileged middle-class audience to warn them about the dangers of industrialization. The narrator holds firm moral positions about industrial cities being inhuman and believes that high- and low-class people all have the same desires and emotions, they just relate to different experiences. The narrator is nonjudgmental and wants the reader to be, as well.
Narrator Character Timeline in Life in the Iron Mills
The timeline below shows where the character Narrator 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
As a frame narrative, the novella begins with the outer story. The unnamed narrator describes an unnamed industrialized city, which specializes in making iron. Smoke coats every inch of... (full context)
...tonight, as she often goes hungry. Unlike her companions, Deborah does not drink alcohol. The narrator interjects, suggesting that Deborah must have some other “stimulant” that keeps her going, like love... (full context)
...ash while he goes back to tending to the furnaces, and she does so. The narrator notes that this scene—with the hellish-looking mill, half-clothed workers, and Deborah lying in a pile... (full context)
...young, helpless girl with dark blue eyes. In the midst of Deborah’s painful thoughts, the narrator interjects, asking the reader to realize that these feelings of heartbreak, pain, and jealousy are... (full context)