I took Ron Rash's "Eureka Mill" on the train with me this morning and almost finished it in the one-way trip. It's a book of poems describing the lives, stories, and circumstances of cotton mill workers as such mills began to move into farming communities and offer an attractive alternative to the backbreaking work of tobacco farming (even more backbreaking since the abolishment of slavery, I imagine).
I came away with a rather vivid picture in my mind of the types of issues that people had to deal with in living during such changing social circumstances: the loss of freedom of working your own land vs. the financially unsustainable nature of that work at the time, and the promise of affluence and a better future for your family offered by the factory.
There's a strange contrast between people having lived severely independent lives of often-unpaid hardship on the farm, deciding to give that up and go to work in the mill, and then forming community with others who have done the same only because of the newfound shared hardship they experience as factory workers -- though, this time, it is rather well-paid and assumed to offer a better future for your family.
Assuming you can forgive a loss of independence and of soul, this, I suppose, is progress. Even if you don't agree, you understand the temptation.
To give such an understanding (though obviously far from comprehensive) in such a small amount of time, I think it must mean that Ron Rash has written a good and effective collection of poems.
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