Classics · Review

Mini Reviews: American Realism Edition

Mini Reviews Life in the Iron Mills and Pudd'nhead Wilson

I’m posting another set of mini-reviews. This time I am using the theme of American Realism, which was the class that I read Rebecca Harding Davis’ Life in the Iron Mills and Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson in. There were other stories, novels, essays and nonfiction books we read in the class, but I am using these two books for the Back to the Classics reading challenge, which requires reviews.

Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis

four-stories-by-american-womenEditor: Cynthia Griffin Wolff

Anthology: Four Stories by American Women

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Pub. Date: 1861, 1990

Genres: Realistic Fiction, Classic

Page Range: 1-38 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

At this point, I have not read the entire anthology that is Four Stories by American Women, but I have read one story in it, “Life in the Iron Mills” by Rebecca Harding Davis. This story is about a mill worker, Hugh Wolfe, who has tried to rise out of his situation to live a better life, but he is shot down at every opportunity. Deborah, his hunchback cousin, loves Hugh so much that she will miss dinner to make sure he has his own. One night when she takes him his dinner, some non-mill workers drop by the work site and discover Hugh’s unfinished korl masterpieces. Is this his chance to escape the harsh life in the iron mills? This is one of those stories that makes you think.

The characters were developed. Hugh works in terrible conditions and wishes for a different life. His situation is described very well. Deborah is as much of a tragic character as Hugh. Her actions show such devotion for him. However, I found the men who don’t work at the site to be cruel and snobbish.

A couple of things I want to talk about:

  • It is somewhat difficult to understand Deborah when she speaks. For example, she uses “hur” as a universal pronoun. It does add to her character and the disappointing environment that Hugh finds himself in. However, I remember that we talked about how the author didn’t know the different dialects, so the dialects of the characters are inaccurate in representing the specific groups involved.
  • It’s sometimes so boring in places that I had a hard time following what happened.

Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

puddnhead-wilson-by-mark-twainPublisher: Signet Classicdialects

Pub. Date: 1894, 1980

Genre: Historical Fiction, Classic

Pages: 172

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Set in a small town in Missouri before the Civil War, a slave woman switches her light-skinned son with her master’s son. No one is the wiser. Pudd’nhead Wilson, a local lawyer, focuses his attentions on deception in the community and becomes the center of a murder mystery. Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain, is a social commentary that is similar in conception to Twain’s other novel, The Prince and the Pauper. I enjoyed the novel when I read it in class.

The characters are all well-crafted and developed. Pudd’nhead Wilson is a smart lawyer, but everyone in the town thinks he is a pudd’nhead ever since he moved there. Roxanne is Judge Driscoll’s slave who would pass for White if everyone didn’t already know she was a slave. She switches her son with her master’s who is the same age so that her son will grow up free. There are the boys Roxanne switched: Tom Driscoll and Chambers. I hate Roxanne’s biological son, but he is a very developed character in the story. Later, the Capello twins come to town to relax and get involved in Tom’s (Roxanne’s son’s) horrible activities.

Things I liked:

  • I liked that this demonstrated the power of fingerprints. From what I remember in class, it wasn’t that widely known that fingerprints uniquely identify you, so it proves to readers (in its way) that they are that powerful. I like that this cover actually shows the fingerprints.
  • Roxanne’s cleverness about proving which baby is hers.
  • I like the court scene for showing Wilson’s intelligence and the real culprit of the murder.
  • I liked the Italian twins. They spice up the activity in town, and I like that they understand Pudd’nhead Wilson.

Things I didn’t like:

  • I was disappointed in that Chambers was not present in the novel nearly as much as his birthday twin. For the major selling point to be about the mix-up, I wanted to see more of his interiority.
  • The racism and slavery, but this is expected in a Mark Twain novel.

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