While Jane Atteridge Rose argues that the narrator in “Life in the Iron-Mills” is male, I believe that the narrator is female. The reason is not only because of Rebecca Harding Davis’s background, attending an all girls school and being a wife and a mother, but also because the story has a theme of feminist, as Leo indicates. Davis’s daily life gives her opportunities to think over the roles of women in the industrialized society she lives in, and she indirectly points out the social issues as a female narrator in the story.
In “Life in the Iron-Mills,” the omniscient narrator describes the poor conditions women are living in in a feminist way. She deliberately portrays the women as “a crowd of half-clothed women” and “[a mulatto] needed the post to steady her, so did more than one of them,” (Davis 2765). From these descriptions, Davis shows how vulnerable and mistreated the women are, which are careful observations men usually do not notice. Being a feminist, the narrator and Davis depict men into women features. One of the main characters, Hugh Wolfe, has a nickname of a girl, “Molly Wolfe.” This nickname has feminized the main character. Also, unlike the stereotypical men, Hugh “was never seen in the cockpit, did not own a terrier, drank but seldom… He had the taint of school-learning on him,” (Davis 2769). From this passage, it is obvious that Hugh does not conform the social expectation of a man, which is to be tough and rough. All of Deborah’s hard work, trying her best to get Hugh’s attention and taking supper to Hugh no matter how cold and hungry she is, represent Davis’s struggle between her family and artistic fulfillment. Narrating as a woman, Davis makes the story female-centric, as she focuses on women’s conditions and makes Hugh less manly, and the existence of a female narrator is a way for Davis to express her dissatisfaction in her multi-tasking life.