I Was Content and Not Content: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry

I Was Content and Not Content: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry

I Was Content and Not Content: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry

I Was Content and Not Content: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry


Most studies of deindustrialization in the United States emphasize the economic impact of industrial decline; few consider the social, human costs. "I Was Content and Not Content": The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry is a firsthand account of a plant closure, heavily illustrated through photographs and told through edited oral history interviews. It tells the story of Linda Lord, a veteran of Penobscot Poultry Co., Inc. in Belfast, Maine, and her experience when the plant -- Maine's last poultry-processing plant -- closed its doors in 1988, costing over four hundred people their jobs and bringing an end to a once productive and nationally competitive agribusiness.

Linda Lord's story could be that of any number of Americans -- blue- and white-collar -- effected by the rampant and widespread downsizing over the past several decades. Born in Waterville, Maine, in 1948, she grew up only ten miles northwest of Belfast in a family that had long made its living in the poultry industry. She began working at Penobscot straight out of high school and remained with the company for over twenty years. Lord worked in all aspects of poultry processing, primarily in the "blood tunnel", where she finished off the birds that had been missed by the automatic neck-cutting device -- a job held by few women. Single and self-supporting, Linda Lord was thirty-nine years old when the plant closed. In part because she was the primary caretaker for her elderly parents, Lord did not want to leave Maine for a better job, but to stay in the area that had been her home since birth.

The book is comprised of distinct sections representing different perspectives on Lord's story and theplant's demise: Cedric N. Chatterley's photographs; Linda Lord's oral history narrative; an essay by the novelist Carolyn Chute, once a Maine poultry worker herself; historical and methodological essays by Alicia J. Rouverol; and


Michael Frisch

One of the many remarkable things about this remarkable book is how naturally it flows from its title. From its descriptive subtitle alone, you, the reader, can gather that the book is the life story of a woman named Linda Lord and that her story is somehow enmeshed in the closing of a factory named Penobscot Poultry. You don't need to know much more than that to plunge in, for you will quickly discover that this relationship--an individual's story set against the more general story usually indexed these days under the heading "deindustrialization"--is what this very unusual constellation of texts and images revolves around.

As the centerpiece, there is the individual life story itself, rendered in Linda Lord's own words. Then there is the world of Penobscot Poultry and Belfast, Maine, illustrated through Cedric Chatterley's striking photographs. Chatterley and interviewer Stephen Cole offer brief notes, and editor Alicia Rouverol and novelist Carolyn Chute, a former Maine poultry worker herself, provide essays that speak powerfully to Linda, to each other, and to us.

One of Rouverol's two scholarly essays provides a useful perspective on the Maine poultry industry and its decline, by way of exploring the broader issues of deindustrialization in many communities like Belfast. Her other essay is equally helpful in discussing what is so interesting and complex about oral history--about, that is, the relationships and processes through which Linda came to tell her story to her interviewers and, in effect, to all who read the book, many of us from far outside the world of Belfast, Maine. Carolyn Chute offers her own personal, passionate, and pointed commentary on working-class rural Maine--industry, community, and people--and on the obstacles to communication across class lines about this world. in characteristically in-your-face terms, she forces readers to confront the contradictions involved when one group of people becomes the object of the concern, interest, and sympathy of others. Recognizing the almost inevitably dehumanizing and problematic "consumption" this involves, she suggests, is absolutely necessary if we are ever to understand each other and what is common and different in our lives.

All this flows, as I say, quite naturally from the descriptive phrases of the subtitle. But what about the curious quote that precedes them, "I Was Content and Not Content," which is almost too easy to pass over once we hit the serious subtitle business announcing the content of the book? If the subtitle describes straightforwardly what the book is about, this title quote may offer the best clue as to what it is really trying to . . .

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