A Short Story
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The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (March 25, 1911) was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in US history, and it changed many regulations about how buildings must be made and the safety features in them, many of them still in place today. I chose the image about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire because I had heard about it before and I was very intrigued when we learned about it in class, so I knew I wanted to learn more about it. In the image, the headline starts out “More Than 140 Die”, and under that it says “Scores of girls leap to death in streets ten stories below them” and “Unable to reach elevators or stairways, employees rush to windows”. I wanted to acknowledge the fact that many girls weren’t killed by the fire itself, but jumped in the hopes of escaping it, so when I talk about how the main character is trying to get away from the flames I mention that many workers were using the windows. However, I didn’t want that to be how she died. I thought it would be more interesting and to actually explain how the building was made, and call attention to the fact that there were many issues with the safety features in the building.
First, when the hose doesn’t work. This is one of the real things that is now changed because of this fire. It was rotted, and the valve was rusted over, allowing no water to come out. The sprinkler systems didnt work, because at the time, owners torching their buildings to get the fire insurance money was not uncommon, and having working sprinklers would interfere with that. However, this fire was not started by the owners, but it flared up in a rubbish bin, quickly catching fire to everything flammable near it. This was another one of the faulty safety features: how much stuff was lying around that could easily catch fire, causing it to rip through the building so quickly. At the time of the fire, there were no rules on how many people could be working on each floor at a time, so it was extremely overcrowded. I show this when I talk about how the girl couldn’t get to the elevator because of the huge crowd of people rushing towards it. The elevator was another problem, possibly the biggest one. There were four elevators in the building, but only one was working. It could only hold 12 people at a time, and was very slow, so it broke down after only 4 trips. The stairs were very narrow, and locked at the bottom, which caused many of the girls, including my main character, to be suffocated and burned by the fire, with nowhere left to turn. There are now signs outside of elevators that say to take the stairs in case of a fire, and the doors would never be locked at the bottom of the stairwell.
I thought it would be interesting to write a story from one of the workers’ point of view, because I could really show what a typical day was probably like for the girls who worked in the factories. This is historical fiction, so that might not be exactly accurate, but I did some research so I think it is close. Immigrants would usually live in cramped tenements, similar to the one I described, but even that is being generous as they would often only have one room. The point of view I chose to use was in the first person and present tense. This isn’t as common in books and other writings that I have read, but I thought it would be fitting because it allows the reader to really feel what the main character is feeling, which is why I add detailed descriptions and imagery of objects and how they feel in relation to her. An example of this is in the very first sentence, where i talk about the scratchy wool blanket, the bed being low, and how cold the ground is. I also do this in the last few sentences, where I describe the white hot flames, and the smoke scalding her lungs in the last moments of her life. I also didn’t give the character a name, so the reader can put themselves in her shoes, and try to understand what it would actually be like to be this character, and to feel as though they are her as they are reading.
This is significant to me because Im proud of the writing that I did and I worked hard on it, and i’ve been working on my creative writing skills a lot this year and this shows that.