Tillie Lerner’s “Iron Throat” Recap

“The Iron Throat” means more than what a reader may initially construe. At first, he may read a piece of seemingly moderate complexity, a tale about a troubled, un”edjjication”ed family living in economic and emotional squalor that differed little from the filth and garbage that covered their external environment. Each of the following settings and situations serves to color the life of a poor American at this time. Once housed in the Proletarian Literature in the United States: An Anthology (1935), “The Iron Throat” was kept among other writings about the working class in the early Industrial Age of America.

Consistent references of the “bowels of the earth,” absorbing mining men of the time insinuate a group of people literally living in feces. The men of the bowels of the earth are chewed up, met with various acidic chemicals, then return home fragmented, brown versions of their former selves. “

Mrs. Hollbrook lay in the posture of sleep. Thoughts, like worms, crept within her” (Lerner). While no human being is without the presence of live bacteria in his digestive tract, the poor class of the time arguably had both literal and metaphorical worms eating them from the inside out. Worms are commonly found in the bowels of those who live in food ghettos, without proper resources or sanitation. “Food had been rotting in the garbage pile for years as there was no such thing as a garbage collection.” Education, or “edjjication,” is the only route out of the shit.

“The Iron Throat” subtly points out how education is one of the most vital, if not the key ingredient in climbing out of an unsatisfying life devoid of the fertile ground necessary for one to grow his potential. Maize, the young daughter of the dale, the hope of the story, is found almost instinctively racking her brain for knowledge. She is Matilda-like in her innocent eagerness. She’s not being fed anything of substance- neither food nor information- and so she must do the best with what she’s been given. She speaks to herself in the absence of maternal or paternal guidance, reassuring herself of all the facts she knows, “I am Mazie Holbrook,” she said softly, “I am a knowen things.” The role of alcoholism in this type of community is noticeably present, as the miner’s “only friend” is a strong drink. Somehow this early exposure to failure, gloom, and incompetence is not absorbed by little Maize’s mind, and she remains (as most children do) in a state of hope, desperately trying to get her father to teach her, to take her with him to expand her consciousness and evolve. Instead, he sends her away, an in so doing parlaying any role responsibilities of parenting back to Maize’s beaten and wounded mother. Readers are left without knowing how the cycle will continue or end with Maize, whose father is left “hurting her, but not knowing it.”

written by Shawna Marie Rodgers