Labor and Literature

Since the earliest days of American history, writers have turned to literature in the form of novels, short stories, poems, and plays, to make sense of and critique the changing meaning of work in American life and culture.

From the toil of a Civil War nurse in Walt Whitman’s poem “The Wound-Dresser,” to the devastating conditions of factory labor in Rebecca Harding Davis’ short story “Life in the Iron Mills,” to the insecurity of work for African Americans in Claude McKay’s novel Home to Harlem, literature has long offered a window into the lives of working people in the United States.

This series of articles explores how literature, in various genres or forms, can aid in understanding the diverse experiences of working people. It draws on examples linked to National Park Service units and affiliated sites across the country.

Last updated: November 29, 2023


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