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“Rivethead” by Ben Hamper: Key Themes Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 10th, 2022


Rivethead was written by Ben Hamper and published in the year 1991. In the book, the author tried to illustrate events that were experienced in a motor vehicle company. This paper seeks to offer a critical review of the book. In this paper, I will look into the outline of the book to give a summary as well as highlight key themes captured by the book.

Summary of the Book

Hamper finished schooling failing to acquire a good grade from the high school level. He was for this reason left with few career options which he identified to be limited to working at the general motors company. He, however, did not want to work with the company and delayed seeking employment from the company. Fate however landed him in his presumably right place as he finally got a job with the company. His recruitment was alongside those of other people who were associated with drug abuse. They were recruited by the company and assigned roles which again landed Hamper in a section of the factory that he had dreaded. The section he was assigned was seemingly not preferred by most employees who already were working at the firm. The section was hated because of the repetitive nature of tasks that were carried out in the place. The working condition was full of repetition of activities that the employees were to do every day. This was due to a level of specialization that led to the performance of particular tasks every single day. He was given Roy as a coworker in the section. Roy for example was negatively affected by this repetitive work and resorted to smoking as a source of relief. He finally quit the job on the basis of the repetitive nature of work. Hamper however considered the condition as an advantage as the work became easier. He also enjoyed his remunerations, a fact that made him maintain his job. The economic stability of the company deteriorated and led to layoffs. Quite unfortunately, Hamper was among those who lost their jobs. However, he was lucky enough to be reinstated back to his position afterward. He was happy to get back to work so he could earn a means of living.

Hostile Working Conditions (Suffering)

The hostility of the working conditions as realized in the factory is one of the themes that the author illustrated. Hamper shade a lot of light on factors that were not enjoyed but tolerated in the general motors workplace. In an illustration about his father, he revealed that the factory was characterized by a level of noise that was too much for the workers. The industrial processes were also accompanied by heat emissions that were not comfortable for the workers. This led to body reactions that culminated in factors such as sweating and body smells that even affected family members of the workers back at home. This could have been the specific reason why Hamper never wanted to go and work in the factory. The fact that there was a repetition of work in the factory as Hamper witnessed of his father prior to his working there, and his own experience also revealed a condition that was considered by the workers as unbearable. Though Hamper had to later put up with such conditions and even came to fear losing his job, he had earlier compared the act of repetitive work to be worse than even death (Hamper 1).

Social Stratification

Social stratification is another theme that the writer illustrated. Realized in the form of job category which could have a bearing with respect to either level of education or with a financial background, Hamper together with his lineage is realized to be in one particular category. He identified himself with the motor vehicle industry as the only possible employer. Though he dreaded working in the general motors factory, he was forced to face the reality and take a job with the company when he got the chance. The fact that he had wanted to work at the factory for a long duration of time as well as the fact that he could not find a job elsewhere also indicated that General Motors was his only option. When he later lost his job, he failed to find a job somewhere else until the company recalled him. The fact that working in the company had been realized along his family lineage also illustrated an association of the type of particular employment with the class to which Hamper and his family belonged. The lineage, both from his father and his mother having been workers in the factory revealed the perception that people marry within their social class. A man from a poor background who does manual work like Hamper’s father is identified with marrying a woman from the same class and their children being maintained at the same class. The text also illustrated the difficulty of moving across social classes. Having your parents from a particular social class would imply that you also belong to that class and efforts that one puts against this notion do not easily materialize. This was illustrated by Hamper trying to make a breakthrough through academics. He however accepted the fact that the motor vehicle factory was where he belonged following his failure in school. The book thus illustrated the existence of social classes and the fact that the classes were restrictive to movements across. Hamper and his family is identified in a low class that survives on the lowest available opportunities, the motor vehicle factory, with no other available job outside the factory.


The author also established the issue of the destiny of an individual. He illustrated the fact that a person’s life can be predetermined and has to pass regardless of the efforts that are put to counter such destiny. Hamper’s lineage, for example, had outlined where he belonged. The earlier generations of his family had been workers at the general motors company indicating the trend that even the author’s generation was to belong there by virtue of being associated with the family. Though he understood the fact that this is where he belonged, he never liked it and tried to use education to escape but failed in exams forcing him to stay in the social class that had been identified with his lineage.


The book, ‘Rivethead’, is about an individual who was forced into a job that he never liked. The illustration of a family lineage’s association to this kind of work represents a lowly regarded class. The work condition that is full of repetition is shown as a discouragement to the workers and those who hold on to the jobs do so for fears of being laid off. The book brought up a number of themes with the most distinct ones being hostile working conditions (suffering), social stratification and destiny.

Work Cited

Hamper, Ben. Rivethead. New York, NY: Warner Books, 1991. Print.

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