Criticism of Industrialization

The industrialization that started in Great Britain in the 18th century and extended to the United States of America was a crucial event for all layers of society. Thus, it could not remain unnoticed by the cultural and political activists of that time. Therefore, a great number of American journalists, poets, and novelists wanted to represent the Industrial Revolution from different perspectives. The enormous technological growth, the changes in labor demand and working conditions as well as demographic changes were the major topics, to which the essays and poems of that time referred. Viewing machines as the major symbols of the era, writers examined cultural changes, modern working conditions, human attitudes, and activities caused by the machines-caused transformation of society. Overall, such a reorganization of society was both praised and criticized. The current essay will refer to the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain to show how the initially welcoming responses to the new technologies gradually transformed into severe criticism of machines’ influence on society and treatment of labor.

The praise of industrialization was primarily associated with the economic growth and development that the new technologies provided to the nation. For instance, President Thomas Jefferson was sure that machines could become an essential part of the American way of life and blend into the economy harmoniously. However, on the other hand, he understood that the farming lifestyle that was important for many American families would be destroyed. Therefore, the Industrial Revolution had both advantages and disadvantages for various groups of population. Some of the positive sides of industrialization could be viewed by the consumers as they could acquire luxury goods for a lower price. Having analyzed the situation, historian Jack Larkinson marked out that the overall social capacity of the household was extended. At the same time, the price for books and magazines decreased, and the literature market expanded considerably. However, writers and poets commonly presented another side of industrialization. Such industrial workers as Sarah Bagley, William Heighton, Lucy Larcom, Harriet Farley, and others had the opportunity to publish their poems and novels to show the other dull side of manufacturing and technologies. Many of their works were hair-raising and trashy, revealing the gender and class issues that had appeared in society at that time.


It is important to understand that industrialization transformed the nature of work as workers had less control over the hours, methods, and pace of labor. Thus, inequality in the country increased as the traditional value of the master human hand and skills devalued. As a result, many people opposed and criticized industrialization. While some writers like Walt Whitman and Ralph Emerson were convinced that the new technologies and particularly the railroad were good means to unite the country and support democratic ideals, John Steinbeck, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and other writers strongly criticized the materialistic values of the new system.

Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath became a detailed review of how American industrialization had led to poverty. Not only does the author emphasize the sufferings of migrants in America, but he also shows how society separates people while, on the contrary, it must unite them. In one of the chapters, for instance, Steinbeck portrays California as the state, where the landowners make the poor hungry people suffer. Hence, he shows that industrialization has led to numerous awful issues that cannot be compensated from the perspective of morality. As a result, it becomes obvious that machinery leads people to conflicts and even inhuman deeds. In contrast, the examples of the Joads and the Wilsons show which qualities must be truly valued. Instead of the privileges and material welfare, such issues as loyalty, readiness to take responsibility, and commitment are important in life. Unfortunately, history and society create the conditions that become the obstacles on the way to staying highly moral and remaining “beyond the single need” and “ahead of the accomplishments”. Mainly, the moral versus the material became the focus of the author.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter portrays puritan society and refers to a great number of the issues that had to become real concerns for the Puritans. The author refers not only to the rebellion of the main heroine against the evil community; however, he also emphasizes the importance of the spiritual aspect in life. In contrast to the material benefits the Industrial Revolution has brought, the identity of the person and the spirit must be valued. Nevertheless, the community and industrialization in particular contribute to people’s division and labelling. As the main heroine is marked with the scarlet letter, the situation in society shows that class division and race still make people separated from one another even stronger than the cultural beliefs or any other factors. Hawthorne believes that alienation from society makes one strong but also teaches “much amiss”. Therefore, one can see that disorder, confusion, and inharmonious existence and lack of spirituality are the characteristics that are associated with modern industrial society. While the moral wilderness of the heroine leads her to the violation of rules, readers can see that the writer is on her side, thus defending her humanity and feelings over the disputable rules of her community. Although in the very beginning of the story Hawthorne emphasizes that machinery has contributed to people’s literacy, the general evaluation of the Industrial Revolution by this writer can be defined as “terrible” due to its negative impact on the social unity. Therefore, the author emphasizes that the spiritual aspect has become the one that suffers from industrialization.

The skeptical approach of Mark Twain to industrialization is primarily reflected in the well-known term the Gilded Age, coined by this novelist. However, the industrialization-related thoughts of Mark Twain can be found in his novels and memoirs. In particular, one can refer to Twain’s memoir Life on the Mississippi. Viewing steamboats and railroads as the crucial elements of industrialization, Mark Twain reflected on the strong association of the technologies with power. However, such power is far not always positive for human lives. While the Mississippi is “a majestic and magnificent” creation of nature, steamboats and railroads provide some definite changes to its overlook. For Twain, “a film of dark smoke”, “the furious clatter of drays”, and the consequent quick preparations to work are associated with the phrase “S–t–e–a–m–boat a–coming!”. Overall, this image shows that industrialization has become the interference into the harmony of nature. Like the boat that people did not see previously, industrialization seemed handsome and attractive from at first sight. However, that was only initial impression. In reality, many features that were not obvious at once were revealed later. These were job loss, discrimination, strong class division, and closer attention to material values instead of spiritual ones. Mark Twain understood that progress and changes in society were inevitable. However, he still reveals that he is nostalgic for the simplicity and harmony of nature as well as old society.

To conclude, one could see that the attitude toward industrialization differed since its initial appearance and until the further development of technology. In fact, the combination of moral issues and machines became the major conflict that was analyzed and criticized by Mark Twain, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, and other writers of that time. Mainly, culture and morality-related issues strengthened the inequality and discrimination issues that became the loyal companions of progress. The issues surrounding cultural and spiritual values and technological development have been widely discussed until nowadays.

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