From The Jungle
With one member trimming beef in a cannery, and another working in
a sausage factory, the family had a first-hand knowledge of the
great majority of Packingtown swindles. For it was the custom,
as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be
used for anything else, either to can it or else to chop it up
into sausage. With what had been told them by Jonas, who had worked
in the pickle rooms, they could now study the whole of the spoiled-meat
industry on the inside, and read a new and grim meaning into that old
Packingtown jest--that they use everything of the pig except the squeal.
Jonas had told them how the meat that was taken out of pickle would
often be found sour, and how they would rub it up with soda to take
away the smell, and sell it to be eaten on free-lunch counters;
also of all the miracles of chemistry which they performed, giving
to any sort of meat, fresh or salted, whole or chopped, any color
and any flavor and any odor they chose. In the pickling of hams
they had an ingenious apparatus, by which they saved time and
increased the capacity of the plant--a machine consisting of a hollow
needle attached to a pump; by plunging this needle into the meat
and working with his foot, a man could fill a ham with pickle in
a few seconds. And yet, in spite of this, there would be hams
found spoiled, some of them with an odor so bad that a man could
hardly bear to be in the room with them. To pump into these the
packers had a second and much stronger pickle which destroyed the
odor--a process known to the workers as "giving them thirty per cent."
Also, after the hams had been smoked, there would be found some that had
gone to the bad. Formerly these had been sold as "Number Three Grade,"
but later on some ingenious person had hit upon a new device, and now
they would extract the bone, about which the bad part generally lay,
and insert in the hole a white-hot iron. After this invention there
was no longer Number One, Two, and Three Grade--there was only Number
One Grade. The packers were always originating such schemes--they had
what they called "boneless hams," which were all the odds and ends of
pork stuffed into casings; and "California hams," which were the
shoulders, with big knuckle joints, and nearly all the meat cut out;
and fancy "skinned hams," which were made of the oldest hogs, whose
skins were so heavy and coarse that no one would buy them--that is,
until they had been cooked and chopped fine and labeled "head cheese!"
It was only when the whole ham was spoiled that it came into the
department of Elzbieta. Cut up by the two-thousand-revolutions-
a-minute flyers, and mixed with half a ton of other meat, no odor
that ever was in a ham could make any difference. There was never
the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would
come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected,
and that was moldy and white--it would be dosed with borax and
glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home
consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor,
in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit
uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored
in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip
over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark
in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over
these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats.
These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread
out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would
go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke;
the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the
shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one--
there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which
a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash
their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice
of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage.
There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef,
and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be
dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the
system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some
jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these
was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it;
and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale
water--and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped
into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public's breakfast.
Some of it they would make into "smoked" sausage--but as the smoking
took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their
chemistry department, and preserve it with borax and color it with
gelatine to make it brown. All of their sausage came out of the
same bowl, but when they came to wrap it they would stamp some of
it "special," and for this they would charge two cents more a pound.
Such were the new surroundings in which Elzbieta was placed, and such was
the work she was compelled to do. It was stupefying, brutalizing work;
it left her no time to think, no strength for anything. She was part
of the machine she tended, and every faculty that was not needed for
the machine was doomed to be crushed out of existence. There was
only one mercy about the cruel grind--that it gave her the gift of
insensibility. Little by little she sank into a torpor--she fell
silent. She would meet Jurgis and Ona in the evening, and the three
would walk home together, often without saying a word. Ona, too,
was falling into a habit of silence--Ona, who had once gone about
singing like a bird. She was sick and miserable, and often she would
barely have strength enough to drag herself home. And there they
would eat what they had to eat, and afterward, because there was
only their misery to talk of, they would crawl into bed and fall into
a stupor and never stir until it was time to get up again, and dress
by candlelight, and go back to the machines. They were so numbed
that they did not even suffer much from hunger, now; only the children
continued to fret when the food ran short.
Yet the soul of Ona was not dead--the souls of none of them were dead,
but only sleeping; and now and then they would waken, and these were
cruel times. The gates of memory would roll open--old joys would
stretch out their arms to them, old hopes and dreams would call to them,
and they would stir beneath the burden that lay upon them, and feel its
forever immeasurable weight. They could not even cry out beneath it;
but anguish would seize them, more dreadful than the agony of death.
It was a thing scarcely to be spoken--a thing never spoken by all
the world, that will not know its own defeat.
They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside.
It was not less tragic because it was so sordid, because it had to do
with wages and grocery bills and rents. They had dreamed of freedom;
of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent
and clean, to see their child grow up to be strong. And now it was all
gone--it would never be! They had played the game and they had lost.
Six years more of toil they had to face before they could expect the
least respite, the cessation of the payments upon the house; and how
cruelly certain it was that they could never stand six years of such
a life as they were living! They were lost, they were going down--
and there was no deliverance for them, no hope; for all the help it
gave them the vast city in which they lived might have been an ocean
waste, a wilderness, a desert, a tomb. So often this mood would come
to Ona, in the nighttime, when something wakened her; she would lie,
afraid of the beating of her own heart, fronting the blood-red eyes
of the old primeval terror of life. Once she cried aloud, and woke
Jurgis, who was tired and cross. After that she learned to weep
silently--their moods so seldom came together now! It was as if
their hopes were buried in separate graves.
Jurgis, being a man, had troubles of his own. There was another
specter following him. He had never spoken of it, nor would he allow
any one else to speak of it--he had never acknowledged its existence
to himself. Yet the battle with it took all the manhood that he had--
and once or twice, alas, a little more. Jurgis had discovered drink.
He was working in the steaming pit of hell; day after day, week after
week--until now, there was not an organ of his body that did its
work without pain, until the sound of ocean breakers echoed in his
head day and night, and the buildings swayed and danced before him
as he went down the street. And from all the unending horror of
this there was a respite, a deliverance--he could drink! He could
forget the pain, he could slip off the burden; he would see clearly
again, he would be master of his brain, of his thoughts, of his will.
His dead self would stir in him, and he would find himself laughing
and cracking jokes with his companions--he would be a man again,
and master of his life.
It was not an easy thing for Jurgis to take more than two or three drinks.
With the first drink he could eat a meal, and he could persuade himself
that that was economy; with the second he could eat another meal--but
there would come a time when he could eat no more, and then to pay
for a drink was an unthinkable extravagance, a defiance of the agelong
instincts of his hunger-haunted class. One day, however, he took
the plunge, and drank up all that he had in his pockets, and went
home half "piped," as the men phrase it. He was happier than he
had been in a year; and yet, because he knew that the happiness would
not last, he was savage, too with those who would wreck it, and with
the world, and with his life; and then again, beneath this, he was
sick with the shame of himself. Afterward, when he saw the despair
of his family, and reckoned up the money he had spent, the tears came
into his eyes, and he began the long battle with the specter.
It was a battle that had no end, that never could have one. But Jurgis
did not realize that very clearly; he was not given much time for
reflection. He simply knew that he was always fighting. Steeped in
misery and despair as he was, merely to walk down the street was
to be put upon the rack. There was surely a saloon on the corner--
perhaps on all four corners, and some in the middle of the block
as well; and each one stretched out a hand to him each one had a
personality of its own, allurements unlike any other. Going and
coming--before sunrise and after dark--there was warmth and a glow
of light, and the steam of hot food,and perhaps music, or a friendly
face, and a word of good cheer. Jurgis developed a fondness for
having Ona on his arm whenever he went out on the street, and he would
hold her tightly, and walk fast. It was pitiful to have Ona know
of this--it drove him wild to think of it; the thing was not fair,
for Ona had never tasted drink, and so could not understand.
Sometimes, in despeate hours, he would find himself wishing that
she might learn what it was, so that he need not be ashamed in
her presence. They might drink together, and escape from the horror--
escape for a while, come what would.
So there came a time when nearly all the conscious life of Jurgis
consisted of a struggle with the craving for liquor. He would have
ugly moods, when he hated Ona and the whole family, because they
stood in his way. He was a fool to have married; he had tied
himself down, had made himself a slave. It was all because he was
a married man that he was compelled to stay in the yards; if it had
not been for that he might have gone off like Jonas, and to hell
with the packers. There were few single men in the fertilizer mill--
and those few were working only for a chance to escape. Meantime, too,
they had something to think about while they worked,--they had the
memory of the last time they had been drunk, and the hope of the time
when they would be drunk again. As for Jurgis, he was expected to bring
home every penny; he could not even go with the men at noontime--he was
supposed to sit down and eat his dinner on a pile of fertilizer dust.
This was not always his mood, of course; he still loved his family.
But just now was a time of trial. Poor little Antanas, for instance--
who had never failed to win him with a smile--little Antanas was
not smiling just now, being a mass of fiery red pimples. He had
had all the diseases that babies are heir to, in quick succession,
scarlet fever, mumps, and whooping cough in the first year, and now
he was down with the measles. There was no one to attend him but
Kotrina; there was no doctor to help him, because they were too poor,
and children did not die of the measles--at least not often. Now and
then Kotrina would find time to sob over his woes, but for the greater
part of the time he had to be left alone, barricaded upon the bed.
The floor was full of drafts, and if he caught cold he would die.
At night he was tied down, lest he should kick the covers off him,
while the family lay in their stupor of exhaustion. He would lie
and scream for hours, almost in convulsions; and then, when he was
worn out, he would lie whimpering and wailing in his torment. He was
burning up with fever, and his eyes were running sores; in the daytime
he was a thing uncanny and impish to behold, a plaster of pimples
and sweat, a great purple lump of misery.
Yet all this was not really as cruel as it sounds, for, sick as he was,
little Antanas was the least unfortunate member of that family.
He was quite able to bear his sufferings--it was as if he had all
these complaints to show what a prodigy of health he was. He was
the child of his parents' youth and joy; he grew up like the conjurer's
rosebush, and all the world was his oyster. In general, he toddled
around the kitchen all day with a lean and hungry look--the portion
of the family's allowance that fell to him was not enough, and he was
unrestrainable in his demand for more. Antanas was but little over
a year old, and already no one but his father could manage him.
It seemed as if he had taken all of his mother's strength--had left
nothing for those that might come after him. Ona was with child
again now, and it was a dreadful thing to contemplate; even Jurgis,
dumb and despairing as he was, could not but understand that yet
other agonies were on the way, and shudder at the thought of them.
For Ona was visibly going to pieces. In the first place she was
developing a cough, like the one that had killed old Dede Antanas.
She had had a trace of it ever since that fatal morning when the greedy
streetcar corporation had turned her out into the rain; but now it was
beginning to grow serious, and to wake her up at night. Even worse
than that was the fearful nervousness from which she suffered;
she would have frightful headaches and fits of aimless weeping;
and sometimes she would come home at night shuddering and moaning,
and would fling herself down upon the bed and burst into tears.
Several times she was quite beside herself and hysterical; and then
Jurgis would go half-mad with fright. Elzbieta would explain to him
that it could not be helped, that a woman was subject to such things
when she was pregnant; but he was hardly to be persuaded, and would
beg and plead to know what had happened. She had never been like
this before, he would argue--it was monstrous and unthinkable.
It was the life she had to live, the accursed work she had to do,
that was killing her by inches. She was not fitted for it--no woman
was fitted for it, no woman ought to be allowed to do such work;
if the world could not keep them alive any other way it ought to kill
them at once and be done with it. They ought not to marry, to have
children; no workingman ought to marry--if he, Jurgis, had known what
a woman was like, he would have had his eyes torn out first. So he
would carry on, becoming half hysterical himself, which was an
unbearable thing to see in a big man; Ona would pull herself together
and fling herself into his arms, begging him to stop, to be still,
that she would be better, it would be all right. So she would lie
and sob out her grief upon his shoulder, while he gazed at her,
as helpless as a wounded animal, the target of unseen enemies.
The Jungle Chapter 15