Refuting Capitalist IdealsThomas Bell, author of Out of This Furnace, grew up in the steel mill town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. His novel reflects the hardships faced by his family during the time when the mills ruled the area. The book also focuses upon the life of immigrant workers struggling to survive in the "new country." All events in Bell's novel are fictional, however, they create a very realistic plot and are based somewhat upon a true story. In this novel, Bell refutes capitalistic ideals and the lack of a republican form of government by showing the struggles and success of immigrant steelworkers.In the late nineteenth century, many European immigrants traveled to the United States in search of a better life and good fortune. The unskilled industries of the Eastern United States eagerly employed these men who were willing to work long hours for low wages just to earn their food and board.
Among the most heavily recruiting industries were the railroads and the steel mills of Western Pennsylvania. Particularly in the steel mills, the working conditions for these immigrants were very dangerous. Many men lost their lives to these giant steel-making machines. The immigrants suffered the most and also worked the most hours for the least amount of money. Living conditions were also poor, and often these immigrants would barely have enough money and time to do anything but work, eat, and sleep.
There was also a continuous struggle between the workers and the owners of the mills, the capitalists. The capitalists were a very small, elite group of rich men who held most of the wealth in their industries. Strikes broke out often, some ending in violence and death. Many workers had no political freedom or even a voice in the company that employed them. However, through all of these hardships, the immigrants continued their struggle for a better life.This is the struggle represented in the book: Out of this Furnace, by Thomas Bell.
The viewpoints of Thomas Bell in his novel seem to sharply contradict the viewpoints depicted by Congressman Abram S. Hewitt and Reverend Richard Storrs (Krause). These men were the main speakers at a key historical event during the late nineteenth century: the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. "The ceremonies were called 'The People's Day' (Krause). It was a day that "proclaimed victory over the dark forces of history", and a "day to celebrate progress" (Krause). However, the opening of the bridge would be a celebration only for those who benefited from it. The beneficiaries were the middle class and capitalists who had little or nothing to do with the physical work involved in building the bridge.
The lower class that received little or no benefit from it were primarily those laborers working in the mills that produced the steel for the bridge. While the bridge is in New York, the steel mills that most likely produced the steel for it were located in Pittsburgh. The speakers at the grand opening spoke nothing about the hard work that had gone into the steel, the poor working and living conditions of workers, the lives lost, and the huge amounts of air and water pollution dumped on Western Pennsylvania each day. Bell describes the environmental damage to Pittsburgh in the following passage:The mills had filled in the shore line for miles up and down the river, destroying trees, obliterating little streams and the pebbly beaches where as recently as the turn of the century campers had set up tents in summer, burying the clean earth under tons of cinder and molten slag.
The banks no longer sloped naturally to the water's edge but dropped vertically, twenty-foot walls of cold slag pierced at intervals with steaming outlets and marked by dribbling stains. (Bell 153)The opening of the bridge could not truly be a People's Day, as the speakers called it, if only a small, select group of people benefited from it. Perhaps Americans had won the "struggle of man to subdue the forces of nature to his control and use," but at what cost and to whom (Krause)? The wealthy of New York City may have paid for much of it with their money, but the true price paid was through the backbreaking labor and the suffering of the working class to produce the bridge.The Reverend Richard Storrs spoke of the bridge as a "durable moment of Democracy itself" (Krause).
This brings up questions as to what democracy really means. It is usually defined as a government for the people through elected representatives. So in a sense, one might assume that the bridge was built for the people because the people wanted it. However, the decision to spend the money and forge the steel and build the bridge, regardless of the human costs of that progress, most likely relied on the decisions.