Book Review: Audacity by Melanie Crowder

Details

Title: Audacity
Author: Melanie Crowder
Published in: 2015
Pages: 400
Genres: historical fiction, realistic fiction, poetry

Summary

“The inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history

A gorgeously told novel in verse written with intimacy and power, Audacity is inspired by the real-life story of Clara Lemlich, a spirited young woman who emigrated from Russia to New York at the turn of the twentieth century and fought tenaciously for equal rights. Bucking the norms of both her traditional Jewish family and societal conventions, Clara refuses to accept substandard working conditions in the factories on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. For years, Clara devotes herself to the labor fight, speaking up for those who suffer in silence. In time, Clara convinces the women in the factories to strike, organize, and unionize, culminating in the famous Uprising of the 20,000.
Powerful, breathtaking, and inspiring, Audacity is the story of a remarkable young woman, whose passion and selfless devotion to her cause changed the world.”

-from Goodreads

My Thoughts

This novel, based on a true story, is simply inspirational. It focuses on Clara Lemlich’s fight for women’s labor rights in New York in the early 20th century.

The novel begins in Russia, where Clara helps her mother with chores around the house and in the grocery store her mother owns. She comes from a traditional, strict Jewish family and her father does not believe that girls should be educated. Despite that, Clara has a passion for learning and does so secretly in her free time with materials bought with money earned by doing little jobs for people. Her whole family soon moves to America due to violence against and hatred of Jews in Russia, though.

Once in New York, Clara must find a job to support her family. She quickly does in a sweatshop where she must work in terrible conditions and is paid very little for her work. But unlike the other girls she works with, she isn’t willing to put up with it. One day she stands up for one of the other girls when they are sexually harassed by the foreman. She is immediately fired. She finds work at another sweatshop, which is as horrible as the first, and so are all the others succeeding it.

Her mother also takes in piecework to support the family. While Clara and her mother earn the money, her father and brothers spend the days going to the synagogue to pray or studying at home, in the name of religion.

At night, Clara continues to pursue her love for education by attending classes at a local, free school, where she learns English among other things. Her dream was to become a doctor and she was even a candidate for a scholarship that would allow her to go to college and pursue that dream. At first she accepted the scholarship and tried to study for the exams, but later gave it up to be able to fight for women’s labor rights instead.

After a few years of working in sweatshops, she learns of labor unions, unaware that that the existing ones are only for men. After finding that out, she’s determined in her belief that women deserve representation too and works to form a labor union for women. At first she works, studies, and participates in the labor union. But later she is fired from her job and blacklisted. She also gives up studying to fully focus on fighting for women’s labor rights. She instead spends her days picketing and encourages other girls to join her by going on strike as well. She is persistent in her protests, even after being beaten, arrested, and thrown in jail. Eventually she leads the Uprising of the 20,000.

I admired Clara for her ability to stand up for what she believes in, even when it got tough. She kept fighting, day after day, and refused to give up. She was willing to put up with the disapproval from her family of what she was doing. She was even willing to keep fighting after repeatedly being bruised, beaten, arrested, and ending up in jail. Not only that, but she gave up her dream of becoming a doctor, was fired from many jobs, and eventually blacklisted from the industry. She was willing to give up everything in the hope that she could change things. The fact that she was willing to sacrifice so much for her passion is such an inspiration.

I was shocked and horrified at the working conditions of the factories she worked in. They were inhumane. The girls were stuck in a dirty room with locked doors and no way out until the foreman or boss let them out at the end of the day. There wasn’t even a fire escape in case of a fire, nor did one of her bosses care if there was. The bosses didn’t care at all about them and treated them like they didn’t matter and weren’t worth anything as people. The bosses made these girls work very long hours every day of the week and paid them very little for the amount of work they did. They were only allowed to use the restroom a couple of times a day and had little time to eat lunch. They weren’t even allowed to talk as they worked. If they did, they were hit for it. And before they were able to leave for the day, they had to be patted down to make sure they weren’t stealing anything, which often led to sexual harassment by the foreman who did the pat downs. These factories also employed young children, who should’ve been attending school instead, and treated them just as horribly. The bosses had complete control and the workers could be fired at any time for anything at all and they had no protection from this.

I was also surprised and outraged that her brothers and father sat around and just prayed and studied all day while they left her and her mother to do all the work. I mean I know some people are very religious and practice their religion daily, but that was going too far. They could’ve had a job and still have been devoted to their religion. It wasn’t until Clara stopped working to be able fully participate in the labor union did they start to find a job.

I very much enjoyed reading Audacity. I found it to be so inspiring and had a great message about being willing to stand up for what you believe in.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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