Life in the Industrial Revolution

June 26, 2011
London, 1802

I wake up and think I am in our old house in the countryside. The sun is streaming through the window from rolling, green hills outside, and I can smell my mother’s cooking wafting through the house. Soon the day will begin, a long day, of weaving cloth.

This is not true, but it is how it used to be. When the machines came, we could no longer keep up with the demands for cloth. We were forced to move to the city and work in a factory, where we tend machines all day long until the day is over, and with our very bones aching, we hurry to bed. Then, all too soon, the bells ring at 4:00 AM to wake up the proletariats of this city.

I can hear the bells now and I must get up. Next to me, on the pile of straw we share, are my younger brother, Tommy, my sister, Jeanette, and my mother, Nellie.

My mother works in a factory that makes buggy parts with my sister, Jeanette. She is only 30, but already her hair is streaked with grey. She is soon to be widowed, they say, like everybody else in this wretched place.

I shudder at the thought. Only a few days ago, my father came down with the spotted fever. I can see him from here; he is sweating, his body raging from the fever. I hope silently that someone will take care of him today, - I have no time. I need to think of something else.

I look at my brother’s face. His hair is oily, thin, and disheveled. His face is very pale and flat and his eyelashes are crusty. His lips are cracked and his body is so thin now that I gasp at the sight. Please help us. I whisper, to whom, I don’t know. I gently shake Tommy, and he opens his eyes, which are dull and listless.

All around me, there is a sea of bodies, dead or alive - we can never be sure - laying on the dirty cellar floor which we call our home. A few rats scurry around, and where the floor dips downward there is a stream of mostly sewage. The stench is unbearable, but this is the only place we can live. Tommy and I hurry up the dark and dank stairs of the cellar to the first floor of this dismal place, where a dozen other people live. There are still three other stories above us, and the very foundations of the building creak. We grab a little bread that looks untouched by the mold and hurry out the door to the water pump.

Outside, the air is thick with smoke and stench and the sun still hasn’t risen yet. There are streams of sewage and waste on the sides of the road. Everything is muddy, and there are drunks stumbling around and lying facedown in the mud. Corpses that are days old litter the streets, as maggots and fat, juicy flies feast on their bodies. A sea of faces, dull and lifeless, stalk like zombies fresh from the grave all around me. This is how it always is.

The water we drink is brown and festering with disease, but we drink it anyway. Then we hurry to the factory. They will beat us if we are late.

The factory is where we spend our days from sunup to sundown. My brother and I work in a textile mill where we tend machines that spin cotton for 15 hrs, 6 days a week to earn a meager $2 each per week. We are lucky to have a job in the same factory. It is dark in there all day long, and we are forced to work by gaslight. It is hot and noisy, and the only ventilation comes from 3 windows on one side of the mill.

The people around us have purple rings under their eyes. Their spines are bent from years of hard labor and some walk with a limp. Some of them never stopped working last night. They worked another shift to earn more money.

What happens next forces me completely awake. A girl down the aisle from where I am working screams in pain. Her hair is caught in the machine, and all at once the spinning levers scalp the back of her head and blood is everywhere. I hear the manager yelling, “Get out, you dirty, no-good, rotten scum! Get out!” The people around me are laughing at the scene. So is my brother.

In a fit of rage I grab my brother and shake him roughly. “Tommy! How can you do such a thing?! What would father say?! Huh?” I sit down, exhausted. “Father,” I force out, and I can see tears welling up in Tommy’s eyes, “I’m so sorry, Tommy. It will be alright.” I pull my brother into a bony hug and cradle him. Then I hear the manager yell, “Back to work, you dirty rats!” We hurry back to our stations as if nothing had ever happened.

For lunch we get a half hour in which we eat watery soup that we buy from the factory. I can’t help dreaming about what the bourgeoisie are having for lunch right now. Maybe biscuits, and pound cake, and sweet strawberries... I have never had any of those things in my life and I probably never will.

At 8:00 PM we are let off from work and hurry home to have a meager dinner of boiled potatoes. We all eat with our hands like some pack of animals. No one speaks at dinner time, - they are all too exhausted and listless to make an effort. My stomach is still growling as we lay down to bed, but I don’t complain because everyone else is also hungry.

Tomorrow we will get up at 4:00 and hurry off to work. I will hope that someone will take care of father while the rest of my family and I work. The daily grind will go on, until our spines are so compacted and crushed with age and hard work that we cannot work anymore. Maybe sickness will take our bodies and save our families the burden of caring for us in our total uselessness. Maybe the old building will finally groan under the weight of dozens of families and collapse on top of us.

This is how it always is.

The bells toll
The people wake
They stumble to work
To live, to stay

The levers turn
The clocks tick
The time drags weary, on

We must work
and work
and work
We must stay

Join the Discussion

This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

mikey123456 said...
Mar. 19, 2016 at 4:04 am
is this written from the perspective of a male or female
Icithra This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 5, 2015 at 9:46 pm
While the story was good, the poem at the end. was better. I think you should consider re posting just the poem. Maybe think about repeating the first line at the end of the poem? Nice work, in any case.
lillian said...
Aug. 19, 2015 at 6:08 pm
I really liked the raw aspect of this story, it was not glazed over to make you feel comfortable, as you read you got every little detail of the hardships these people went though. Although this was just one family's experience, many others were just like this. But, what disturbs me the most is that this isn't some dystopian world, set in the future made just for the entertainment of others. This was real. So many people experienced this, being in this state of living, but barely. Living just lo... (more »)
maso_jar234 said...
Nov. 6, 2014 at 2:04 pm
this seems like the hunger games to me it sounds awful i coudnt imagine living like that just to get a small wager and food on ur plate i salute them these r the ppl that made modern USA........  
xXvisionXx replied...
Jul. 8, 2015 at 2:20 pm
yes @maso_jar234 very true. I think that these people should get some sort of credit.
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