Life in The Iron Mills - Characters


  • Hugh Wolfe is a Welsh puddler, who was born into poverty, is a laborer who turns pig iron into wrought iron by puddling. Despite the demanding hours at the mill, Hugh has a special talent; artistic talent to sculpt out of korl, "a light, porous substance, of a delicate, waxen, flesh-colored tinge," a leftover refuse from the smelting process. Many of the workers make fun of Hugh for his interest in sculpting and his relationship with Deborah. Hugh yearns for beauty and purity. He has a good heart and cares for Deborah, even though she influences him into taking the stolen money.
  • Deborah Wolfe, is Hugh's cousin, a hunch back who loves Hugh, and often takes dinner to Hugh, even if it means her missing dinner. She works at the spools and inadvertently plays a key role in Hugh's downward spiral in the narrative.
  • Janey, is a child who sleeps over at Hugh and Deb's occasionally when her father is drunk. She is clearly beautiful, which makes Deb jealous.
  • Mr. Clarke, an overseer at the iron mill where Hugh works.
  • Young Kirby, son of the mill's co-owner. He feels no obligation toward the workers except "a narrow limit,--the pay-hour on Saturday night."
  • Doctor May. He is one of the town's physicians. He feels compassion toward the workers, but the overwhelming task of improving the thousands of workers (1200 at this mill alone) prevents him from helping Hugh, even when Hugh asks for it explicitly. Instead, he gives Hugh some empty words of encouragement.
  • Mitchell. Kirby's brother-in-law (and son-in-law of the mill owner), an amateur gymnast, a hardened cynic, and who was "spending a couple of months in the boarders of a Slave State, to study the institutions of the South" (Davis, 17).
  • Captain - A reporter.
  • A Quaker woman. She aids Deborah during and after prison, and provides a grave for Hugh. She provides the only sincere assistance to the poor in the story.
  • The narrator who recounts the story is an unknown person of some higher class. "Many scholars assume the narrative voice is female." She or he possesses the korl woman statue as the only remaining evidence of Hugh's existence.
  • The Korl Woman. A sculpture that was created by Hugh, which showcases Hugh's artistic talent. She is made out of korl. The Korl woman represents industrialism's effect on the working class.

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