Friday, January 18, 2008

Out of This Furnace/Marx

I am taking an American history course this semester and we are reading a book called Out of This Furnace, written by Thomas Bell. It is a novel about immigrant labor in America. It pretty much follows three Slovaks through their lives in the mills. The setting is the Pittsburgh area, mostly centered around Braddock and Homestead. After class yesterday I was reading this book. I just so happened to come across a few passages that related to the Marx quote. Marx referred to workers as becoming appendages to the machines that pretty much ruled them. In out of this furnace Bell states some of the same ideas.

In the one part one of the men is talking about the General Superintendent paying a visit to the mill. The man talks of him as being a very high figure and says, "It was now his furnace and they its servants, and his;"(Bell, 166). This grabbed my attention because we discussed in class how workers in the mills were pretty much thought of as slaves and servants. I believe the date in the book was around 1907. I don't know when in relation that is to Marx (I am really bad with dates).

In another passage shortly following the one above the same man says, "Exhaustion slowly numbed his body, mercifully fogged his mind; he ceased to be a human being, became a mere appendage to the furnace, a lost, damned creature" (Bell, 167). The Marx quote says pretty much exactly the same thing. Marx said, "In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism which is independent of the workers, who are incorporated into it as its living appendages" (Marx, Capital 548). Bell's character was stating that with all of the long, exhausting hours in the mill, he really has become just a human appendage to the furnace. As soon as I read the word "appendage" in Bell's book, the Marx quote came to mind immediately.

I just thought it was kind of interesting to see that an author would write that as a worker actually stating that he is an appendage to the furnace. Sort of facing the facts that he was probably going to be working there until he died if he didn't actually die as a result of the mills.

Just thought it would be interesting to post about seeing that I wasn't even reading that book for this class!

Bell, Thomas. Out Of This Furnace: A Novel of Immigrant Labor in America. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976.

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