Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Keara  Ambrogio

Richard Russo and The Effects of Deindustrialization on Small Town Life

The Rise and Fall of the American Textile and Steel Industry

Richard  Russo

The Industrial Revolution turned many American cities and towns into major industrial communities. Places like Homestead, Pennsylvania and Lawrence, Massachusetts experienced this boom. Homestead, whose factories produced steel and Lawrence, whose factories produced textiles, specifically Polartec Fleece, made strong profits during this time of economic prosperity. This allowed great growth because people now had extra money to invest in the advancement that put the United States at the forefront of economic growth. The people of industrial America worked hard to improve themselves by developing new technologies and creating new jobs. Industry experienced a boom, however, the ability to develop, and the ability to uphold a stable booming economy did not last forever. Industrial development declined and industry began to leave the United States. Towards the end of the twentieth century deindustrialization developed and American industry lagged. In this time period American industry became a thing of the past. The United States ceased to be a major industrial power. Factors such as outsourcing, costs, unwillingness to change and develop and refusal to accept new technologies were all reasons for this industrial decline.

When industry begins to leave these highly developed towns it has a negative effect on their residents. Similar to towns like Homestead and Lawrence, Richard Russo’s Railton and Empire Falls have not made a full recovery from deindustrialization and struggle to survive. He exposes these aspects by describing common beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles of the town’s residents. Miles Roby, for example, never leaves the town of Empire Falls and because of this he never advances in life. The isolation and lack of development of these deindustrialized towns cause the residents to be stuck in this “human rut” forever (Empire Falls 193). Through his writings, Russo shows the reader how attitudes, goals, and lifestyles are all greatly influenced by setting. In this case the setting causes a individual’s life to suffer greatly as a result of a community’s deindustrialization

Major Works Consulted:

Hira, Ron & Anil. Outsourcing America: What’s Behind Our National Crisis and How We Can Reclaim American Jobs. New York: AMACOM, 2005.
Hoerr, John. And Finally the Wolf Came. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1988.
Russo, Richard. Empire Falls. New York: Vintage, 2001.
---. Straight Man. New York: Vintage, 1997.
Photo Credit: Russo, Richard. Empire Falls. New York: Vintage, 2001.