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The Oakum Room is a short story by Theresa Tomlinson that portrays the harsh and degrading conditions faced by female workhouse employees in a workhouse for the disadvantaged. The writer is able to depict the cruel and disgusting manner in which the

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The Oakum Room "The Oakum Room" is a short story by Theresa Tomlinson that portrays the harsh and degrading conditions faced by female workhouse employees in a workhouse for the disadvantaged. The writer is able to depict the cruel and disgusting manner in which the workers are treated by her use of imagery and word choice, and in this essay, I intend to discuss these techniques. Tomlinson chooses to use a first-person narrative as a way of making the story more personal, as if the protagonist, Susan, is confiding in us. The use of this personal touch helps us learn more about Susan, in the way she depicts others and the story's events. The first example of this is the onomatopoeia with which she describes Mrs Hanson's shoes "slap" the floor. The reader immediately becomes uncomfortable with the presence of Mrs Hanson (the administrator of the workhouse's harsh regime), as the connotations of the word "slap" suggests violence and her desire for control. The writer chooses to repeat the word to illustrate the power held over the women by their oppressor. The protagonist's recognition of the "quick step" of Mrs Hanson suggests she has already been given a reason to fear her. When Mrs Hanson enters the oakum room, she chooses to address the workers while on the "raised dais". The writer does this to imply the way Mrs Hanson feels above the workers and looks down on them, both metaphorically and (by choice) ...read more.


The alliteration here emphasises the extent of the women's suffering. Tomlinson describes the women's skin as: "tough like the skin of a beast." This simile is used to convey the dehumanisation of the workforce, who have been forced to change over time, due to the difficult conditions faced as a worker in the oakum room. The workhouse is described as "charitable" on many occasions by Mrs Hanson. This seems to have been used as an ironic comment by the author who does not believe them to be charitable at all, but a hypocritical and dishonest organisation that exploits vulnerable women. The women are soon lined up like the cattle that he farms in front of their potential husband and Mrs Hanson goes through the qualities and defects of each of the women as if they are not women but dumb animals, unable to comprehend her callous remarks. This is evident when she describes a young woman by saying: "She has a young child over at the infants' ward. Father unknown, of course... still, proof of childbearing." Her brutal and unfeeling words convey the idea that she is fully aware of the feeling that Jarrotson has lined these women up to choose one of them as he would an animal, with no regard for their feelings or emotions. Mr Jarrotson, the farm worker choosing a wife, is described by the author as an ugly and contemptible individual. ...read more.


I believe this depressing image of their crushed defeated footsteps is described purposely to convey the women's inability to rebel due to their lack of options in life. The women are clearly in a desperate situation already, and this is the reason they choose to remain in these unrelenting and depressing conditions. In this short story, Theresa Tomlinson uses vivid and memorable language to depict a situation in which terrible and inhumane conditions have brought out the best in a group of people. The unity and loyalty the women show towards each other, is something we think of as admirable, and her story emphasises the idea that it seems ironic that this type of relationship was caused by such poor and vicious treatment. There are points throughout the story where the women admit that they wouldn't "have managed if [they] hadn't had each other". This shows a feeling of their strong bond which persists despite Mrs Hanson's efforts to crush their human spirit. In this short story, Theresa Tomlinson creates a stark contrast between the way in which the poor were treated in Victorian times and the way the poor are treated today. The themes in this short story of courage and dignity in the face of brutality clearly emphasise that people nowadays seem to be developing more respect towards each other as individuals; people nowadays are, thankfully, much more conscious of the way their actions affect others. ...read more.

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