Sunday, March 11, 2007

New England Labor History Cage Match!

For a confusing experience, try reading Elizabeth Winthrop's Counting on Grace and Katherine Paterson's Bread and Roses, Too in the same week. Both about 12-year-old girls caught up in labor unrest in New England in the early 1900’s. Both by established children’s authors. Both with so many similar motifs that I had to make a chart to keep them straight. Here it is [Warning: spoilers!]:




The Great New England Labor-Themed Historical Novel Comparison Chart
Similar ThingCounting on GraceBread & Roses, Too
HeroineGrace: restless, fiery, second-best reader in classRosa: responsible, anxious, best student in class
Significant BoyArthur: best reader in class and closet labor agitatorJake: mill worker, street kid, and inadvertent strike evacuee
Colorful Immigrant Ethnicity
French-Canadian-AmericanItalian-American
ShoesDoesn’t have her own pair, so she goes to work as a dofferFalling apart, so she tries to hide them in a garbage heap
MotherFastest spinner in the mill; hates labor activists; something of a terrorBig-hearted striker; hates the bosses; something of a stereotype
FatherKind of a nonentity compared to Mamere, but comes through in the endDead
Big SisterDelia: Never liked school; works at Mamere’s side at the millAnna: Never cared for school; Works at Mama’s side at the mill and on strike
Ruthless CapitalistUnidentified cotton mill ownersBilly Wood, big boss of the American Woolen Company
Capitalist StoogeFrench Johnny, overseerMiss Finch, schoolteacher
Vermont ConnectionEveryone lives thereKids of strikers sent there from Lawrence, MA for the duration
Actual historical eventLewis Hine’s subversive documentary photographsThe “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912
Related historical artifact that gives me goosebumpsWrenching and beautiful cover photo of child mill worker who for some reason reminds me of my kid“Bread and Roses” song that was for some reason the unofficial anthem of my undergraduate alma mater
Real-life labor heroLewis HineJoseph Ettor, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Big Bill Haywood
TeacherHeartbroken that kids have to leave school for the dangerous mills; sticks her neck out for the workersHeartbroken that kids are misled by dangerous and wicked labor agitators; pawn of the patriarchy
DeathGrace's kindly grandfatherJake’s abusive dad
Change of HeartMamere allows that reading might be valuableMiss Finch allows that kids might be hungry

They’re both well-written, solid books, though I ended up liking Counting on Grace better: the characters felt more fleshed-out, and the plot was less sprawly. Bread and Roses, Too is written on a grander scale and spreads out its focus somewhat.

Plus I just loved that Grace. She jumped right off the page.

4 comments:

liz said...

I was named after Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

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MotherReader said...

I liked Counting on Grace better too. I never warmed up the characters in Bread and Roses, Too. But I really felt for the characters in Grace. I thought it was especially interesting how her parents conflict in needing the money from her working and wanting her life to be better.

bookbk said...

Thanks for visiting, MR. I liked how the parents were drawn, too; it's tough to depict a mother who's that fierce and prickly and opposed to the side we're all set up to root for (i.e. labor reformers and Grace's teacher) and not make her unlikeable, but Winthrop manages.