April 17, y
Blood on the Forge
“Steel is born in the flames and sent out to live and grow old. It comes back to the flames and has a new birth. But no one man could calculate its beginning or end. It would end when the earth ended. It seemed deathless.” (302) Blood on the Forge, by William Attaway, illustrates one of the most important historical event in United States history, The Great Migration. Attaway sets Blood on the Forge in the midst of the Steel Valley in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1919’s. We accompany the Moss brothers in the Blood on the Forge as they face a world filled with emptiness, hunger, inequality and the obstacles they encounter in an unforgiving world.
The Moss brothers consist of Big Mat, Melody, and Chinatown. Each born and raised in the deep south of the United States. Born to work and toil in a Sharecropper’s world, the Moss brothers struggle to make do. Big Mat is the oldest of the three Moss brothers. He’s recognized for his physical strengths, as a provider of the Moss family and his short temper. Melody is the middle half-brother of Big Mat and Chinatown. Melody is known for his musical talent, and his developing love for Anna. Chinatown is the youngest of the Moss brothers. Chinatown is the greediest of the brothers, fixed on his needs before his family. Ultimately the attributes of the Moss brothers will largely affect the outcome of the story, which entails a story of love, greed and death. Although each of the Moss brothers have different attributes and personality, at the end of the day they are still a family that are bounded together by the experiences they faced together.
One of the underlying themes that are present in the Blood on the Forge are mechanization. The Moss brothers are merely tools, Big Mat is used to start a fight in a union meeting, he was used for physical attributes, and was ultimately killed in the fight. Melody smashed is hands that crippled him from playing the guitar. Chinatown lost his sight that barred him from seeing the world. With steel, comes the production of machines, and ultimately these would replace humans because these “machines lift tons easy as a guy takes a spoonful of gravy to his mouth?” (112)
William Attaway, the novelist, being born in the early 1900’s, similarly experienced the time period Blood on the Forge was based on. Attaway moved from the segregated state of Mississippi to the industrialized city of Chicago, Illinois. The novelist became part of the Great Migration, just as the Moss brothers became part of it when they escaped Kentucky to work on the steel mills of Pennsylvania. It is apparent that Blood on the Forge has a distinct connection to Attaway’s life.
Attaway seeks to tell the plot of the story into five parts. Part one of the story renders the Life of the Moss brothers before the Steel Mills. Working for Mr. Johnson as a sharecropper, the Moss brothers were dirt poor, unable to feed themselves and work the land because of the unfortunate event that killed the Moss brother’s mom that lead to Big Mat killing the mule they used to plant crops. Already burden by the death of their mother, Big Mat nearly kills a the riding boss when he says; “Killin' a animal worth forty dollars, 'cause a nigger woman got dragged over the rocks.” (69) After this event, it forces the Moss brothers to hop on a train headed for the steel mills of the north.
Part two illustrates the crowded boxcar the Moss brothers were encased in as they headed north. Parts three to five depicts the new life of the Moss brothers as they toil away in the brutal heat of the steel mills. The experiences they’ve gained working in the steel mills have shaped and molded the developing characters of each of the Moss Brothers. At night the devastating new world in which they lived was filled with drunkards, dogfights, prostitution and gambling is highlighted throughout the story. Attaway confronts...
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