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Film / The Cry of the Children

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The Cry of the Children is a 28-minute 1912 film about the dangers of child labor. The film centers on a desperately poor family, consisting of a mother, father, and three children, who live near a textile mill where they are employed. The parents and the two older children work in the mill, performing backbreaking labor that leaves them shuffling and exhausted when their day finally ends. However, the youngest child, impossibly cute little Alice, is left at home, protected from the brutality of the mill.

One day, the rich mill owner's rich, pampered wife is driving home and sees little Alice skipping through the neighborhood. She tries to adopt Alice, but Alice clings to her parents and the father declines. Then the mill owner's wife brings her husband, who tries to buy Alice, but Alice's parents once again refuse. The mill workers go on strike, wanting a living wage, but the owner waits them out and eventually starvation forces them back to work. Alice's mother's health, which was poor to begin with, is now so bad that she can't work, so Alice has to take her mother's place at the mill. Alice tries to get the mill owner's wife to adopt her, but now Alice is gaunt and haggard and much less cute, so the owner's wife sends her away. Alice goes back to work at the mill, where she slaves away until she collapses and dies on the factory floor.

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The Cry of the Children is an uncompromising look at the horrors of child labor, which was a major issue in the United States in 1912. The factory scenes were filmed at an actual textile mill. The film is listed on the National Film Registry.


The Cry of the Children contains examples of:

  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Apparently the fate of Alice, whose beatific spirit appears to her family at the end.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The mill owner pays his workers poverty-level wages and exploits children. When a newspaper headline reports that the strike is ending because the mill workers are literally starving, the mill owner beams in triumph.
  • Death of a Child: Alice dies by the end. The film doesn't say how young she's supposed to be, but the actress was ten years old.
  • Downer Ending: Alice dies.
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  • Free-Range Children: Certainly justified in this instance, as the family obviously couldn't afford child care for Alice.
  • Idle Rich: The mill owner's wife, who dresses up in fancy clothes, wears luxurious furs and hats, and tries to buy cute little slum children.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama: A story of the urban poor, struggling to survive.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is taken from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Title cards in the film quote lines from the poem.
  • No Name Given: Alice is the only character who gets a name.
  • Tears of Remorse: The mill owner's wife ends the film openly weeping, visualizing Alice's death.

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