From The Jungle
For three weeks after his injury Jurgis never got up from bed. It was
a very obstinate sprain; the swelling would not go down, and the pain
still continued. At the end of that time, however, he could contain
himself no longer, and began trying to walk a little every day,
laboring to persuade himself that he was better. No arguments could
stop him, and three or four days later he declared that he was going
back to work. He limped to the cars and got to Brown's, where he
found that the boss had kept his place--that is, was willing to
turn out into the snow the poor devil he had hired in the meantime.
Every now and then the pain would force Jurgis to stop work, but he
stuck it out till nearly an hour before closing. Then he was forced
to acknowledge that he could not go on without fainting; it almost
broke his heart to do it, and he stood leaning against a pillar and
weeping like a child. Two of the men had to help him to the car,
and when he got out he had to sit down and wait in the snow till some
one came along.
So they put him to bed again, and sent for the doctor, as they ought
to have done in the beginning. It transpired that he had twisted a
tendon out of place, and could never have gotten well without attention.
Then he gripped the sides of the bed, and shut his teeth together,
and turned white with agony, while the doctor pulled and wrenched
away at his swollen ankle. When finally the doctor left, he told
him that he would have to lie quiet for two months, and that if he
went to work before that time he might lame himself for life.
Three days later there came another heavy snowstorm, and Jonas and
Marija and Ona and little Stanislovas all set out together, an hour
before daybreak, to try to get to the yards. About noon the last two
came back, the boy screaming with pain. His fingers were all frosted,
it seemed. They had had to give up trying to get to the yards,
and had nearly perished in a drift. All that they knew how to do
was to hold the frozen fingers near the fire, and so little Stanislovas
spent most of the day dancing about in horrible agony, till Jurgis
flew into a passion of nervous rage and swore like a madman, declaring
that he would kill him if he did not stop. All that day and night
the family was half-crazed with fear that Ona and the boy had lost
their places; and in the morning they set out earlier than ever,
after the little fellow had been beaten with a stick by Jurgis.
There could be no trifling in a case like this, it was a matter of
life and death; little Stanislovas could not be expected to realize
that he might a great deal better freeze in the snowdrift than lose
his job at the lard machine. Ona was quite certain that she would find
her place gone, and was all unnerved when she finally got to Brown's,
and found that the forelady herself had failed to come, and was therefore
compelled to be lenient.
One of the consequences of this episode was that the first joints of
three of the little boy's fingers were permanently disabled, and another
that thereafter he always had to be beaten before he set out to work,
whenever there was fresh snow on the ground. Jurgis was called upon
to do the beating, and as it hurt his foot he did it with a vengeance;
but it did not tend to add to the sweetness of his temper. They say that
the best dog will turn cross if he be kept chained all the time, and it
was the same with the man; he had not a thing to do all day but lie and
curse his fate, and the time came when he wanted to curse everything.
This was never for very long, however, for when Ona began to cry,
Jurgis could not stay angry. The poor fellow looked like a homeless
ghost, with his cheeks sunken in and his long black hair straggling
into his eyes; he was too discouraged to cut it, or to think about
his appearance. His muscles were wasting away, and what were left
were soft and flabby. He had no appetite, and they could not afford
to tempt him with delicacies. It was better, he said, that he should
not eat, it was a saving. About the end of March he had got hold of
Ona's bankbook, and learned that there was only three dollars left
to them in the world.
But perhaps the worst of the consequences of this long siege was that
they lost another member of their family; Brother Jonas disappeared.
One Saturday night he did not come home, and thereafter all their
efforts to get trace of him were futile. It was said by the boss
at Durham's that he had gotten his week's money and left there.
That might not be true, of course, for sometimes they would say that
when a man had been killed; it was the easiest way out of it for
all concerned. When, for instance, a man had fallen into one of
the rendering tanks and had been made into pure leaf lard and peerless
fertilizer, there was no use letting the fact out and making his
family unhappy. More probable, however, was the theory that Jonas
had deserted them, and gone on the road, seeking happiness. He had
been discontented for a long time, and not without some cause.
He paid good board, and was yet obliged to live in a family where
nobody had enough to eat. And Marija would keep giving them all
her money, and of course he could not but feel that he was called
upon to do the same. Then there were crying brats, and all sorts
of misery; a man would have had to be a good deal of a hero to stand
it all without grumbling, and Jonas was not in the least a hero--he was
simply a weatherbeaten old fellow who liked to have a good supper and
sit in the corner by the fire and smoke his pipe in peace before he
went to bed. Here there was not room by the fire, and through the
winter the kitchen had seldom been warm enough for comfort. So, with
the springtime, what was more likely than that the wild idea of
escaping had come to him? Two years he had been yoked like a horse
to a half-ton truck in Durham's dark cellars, with never a rest,
save on Sundays and four holidays in the year, and with never a word
of thanks--only kicks and blows and curses, such as no decent dog
would have stood. And now the winter was over, and the spring winds
were blowing--and with a day's walk a man might put the smoke of
Packingtown behind him forever, and be where the grass was green and
the flowers all the colors of the rainbow!
But now the income of the family was cut down more than one-third,
and the food demand was cut only one-eleventh, so that they were
worse off than ever. Also they were borrowing money from Marija,
and eating up her bank account, and spoiling once again her hopes
of marriage and happiness. And they were even going into debt to
Tamoszius Kuszleika and letting him impoverish himself. Poor Tamoszius
was a man without any relatives, and with a wonderful talent besides,
and he ought to have made money and prospered; but he had fallen
in love, and so given hostages to fortune, and was doomed to be
dragged down too.
So it was finally decided that two more of the children would have
to leave school. Next to Stanislovas, who was now fifteen, there was
a girl, little Kotrina, who was two years younger, and then two boys,
Vilimas, who was eleven, and Nikalojus, who was ten. Both of these
last were bright boys, and there was no reason why their family
should starve when tens of thousands of children no older were
earning their own livings. So one morning they were given a quarter
apiece and a roll with a sausage in it, and, with their minds top-heavy
with good advice, were sent out to make their way to the city and
learn to sell newspapers. They came back late at night in tears,
having walked for the five or six miles to report that a man had
offered to take them to a place where they sold newspapers, and had
taken their money and gone into a store to get them, and nevermore
been seen. So they both received a whipping, and the next moming
set out again. This time they found the newspaper place, and procured
their stock; and after wandering about till nearly noontime, saying
"Paper?" to every one they saw, they had all their stock taken away
and received a thrashing besides from a big newsman upon whose
territory they had trespassed. Fortunately, however, they had
already sold some papers, and came back with nearly as much as they
After a week of mishaps such as these, the two little fellows began
to learn the ways of the trade--the names of the different papers,
and how many of each to get, and what sort of people to offer them to,
and where to go and where to stay away from. After this, leaving home
at four o'clock in the morning, and running about the streets, first
with morning papers and then with evening, they might come home late
at night with twenty or thirty cents apiece--possibly as much as
forty cents. From this they had to deduct their carfare, since the
distance was so great; but after a while they made friends, and learned
still more, and then they would save their carfare. They would get
on a car when the conductor was not looking, and hide in the crowd;
and three times out of four he would not ask for their fares, either
not seeing them, or thinking they had already paid; or if he did ask,
they would hunt through their pockets, and then begin to cry, and either
have their fares paid by some kind old lady, or else try the trick
again on a new car. All this was fair play, they felt. Whose fault
was it that at the hours when workingmen were going to their work
and back, the cars were so crowded that the conductors could not
collect all the fares? And besides, the companies were thieves,
people said--had stolen all their franchises with the help of
Now that the winter was by, and there was no more danger of snow,
and no more coal to buy, and another room warm enough to put the
children into when they cried, and enough money to get along from
week to week with, Jurgis was less terrible than he had been.
A man can get used to anything in the course of time, and Jurgis
had gotten used to lying about the house. Ona saw this, and was
very careful not to destroy his peace of mind, by letting him know
how very much pain she was suffering. It was now the time of the
spring rains, and Ona had often to ride to her work, in spite of
the expense; she was getting paler every day, and sometimes, in spite
of her good resolutions, it pained her that Jurgis did not notice it.
She wondered if he cared for her as much as ever, if all this misery
was not wearing out his love. She had to be away from him all the time,
and bear her own troubles while he was bearing his; and then, when she
came home, she was so worn out; and whenever they talked they had
only their worries to talk of--truly it was hard, in such a life,
to keep any sentiment alive. The woe of this would flame up in Ona
sometimes--at night she would suddenly clasp her big husband in her
arms and break into passionate weeping, demanding to know if he really
loved her. Poor Jurgis, who had in truth grown more matter-of-fact,
under the endless pressure of penury, would not know what to make of
these things, and could only try to recollect when he had last been
cross; and so Ona would have to forgive him and sob herself to sleep.
The latter part of April Jurgis went to see the doctor, and was given
a bandage to lace about his ankle, and told that he might go back
to work. It needed more than the permission of the doctor, however,
for when he showed up on the killing floor of Brown's, he was told
by the foreman that it had not been possible to keep his job for him.
Jurgis knew that this meant simply that the foreman had found some one
else to do the work as well and did not want to bother to make a change.
He stood in the doorway, looking mournfully on, seeing his friends
and companions at work, and feeling like an outcast. Then he went
out and took his place with the mob of the unemployed.
This time, however, Jurgis did not have the same fine confidence,
nor the same reason for it. He was no longer the finest-looking
man in the throng, and the bosses no longer made for him; he was
thin and haggard, and his clothes were seedy, and he looked miserable.
And there were hundreds who looked and felt just like him, and who
had been wandering about Packingtown for months begging for work.
This was a critical time in Jurgis' life, and if he had been a weaker
man he would have gone the way the rest did. Those out-of-work
wretches would stand about the packing houses every morning till the
police drove them away, and then they would scatter among the saloons.
Very few of them had the nerve to face the rebuffs that they would
encounter by trying to get into the buildings to interview the bosses;
if they did not get a chance in the morning, there would be nothing
to do but hang about the saloons the rest of the day and night.
Jurgis was saved from all this--partly, to be sure, because it was
pleasant weather, and there was no need to be indoors; but mainly
because he carried with him always the pitiful little face of his wife.
He must get work, he told himself, fighting the battle with despair
every hour of the day. He must get work! He must have a place again
and some money saved up, before the next winter came.
But there was no work for him. He sought out all the members of his
union--Jurgis had stuck to the union through all this--and begged them
to speak a word for him. He went to every one he knew, asking for
a chance, there or anywhere. He wandered all day through the buildings;
and in a week or two, when he had been all over the yards, and into
every room to which he had access, and learned that there was not
a job anywhere, he persuaded himself that there might have been
a change in the places he had first visited, and began the round
all over; till finally the watchmen and the "spotters" of the
companies came to know him by sight and to order him out with threats.
Then there was nothing more for him to do but go with the crowd in
the morning, and keep in the front row and look eager, and when he
failed, go back home, and play with little Kotrina and the baby.
The peculiar bitterness of all this was that Jurgis saw so plainly
the meaning of it. In the beginning he had been fresh and strong,
and he had gotten a job the first day; but now he was second-hand,
a damaged article, so to speak, and they did not want him. They had
got the best of him--they had worn him out, with their speeding-up
and their carelessness, and now they had thrown him away! And Jurgis
would make the acquaintance of others of these unemployed men and find
that they had all had the same experience. There were some, of course,
who had wandered in from other places, who had been ground up in other
mills; there were others who were out from their own fault--some,
for instance, who had not been able to stand the awful grind without
drink. The vast majority, however, were simply the worn-out parts
of the great merciless packing machine; they had toiled there, and kept
up with the pace, some of them for ten or twenty years, until finally
the time had come when they could not keep up with it any more.
Some had been frankly told that they were too old, that a sprier man
was needed; others had given occasion, by some act of carelessness
or incompetence; with most, however, the occasion had been the same
as with Jurgis. They had been overworked and underfed so long,
and finally some disease had laid them on their backs; or they had cut
themselves, and had blood poisoning, or met with some other accident.
When a man came back after that, he would get his place back only by
the courtesy of the boss. To this there was no exception, save when
the accident was one for which the firm was liable; in that case they
would send a slippery lawyer to see him, first to try to get him to
sign away his claims, but if he was too smart for that, to promise
him that he and his should always be provided with work. This promise
they would keep, strictly and to the letter--for two years. Two years
was the "statute of limitations," and after that the victim could not sue.
What happened to a man after any of these things, all depended upon
the circumstances. If he were of the highly skilled workers, he would
probably have enough saved up to tide him over. The best paid men,
the "splitters," made fifty cents an hour, which would be five or
six dollars a day in the rush seasons, and one or two in the dullest.
A man could live and save on that; but then there were only half
a dozen splitters in each place, and one of them that Jurgis knew
had a family of twenty-two children, all hoping to grow up to be
splitters like their father. For an unskilled man, who made ten
dollars a week in the rush seasons and five in the dull, it all
depended upon his age and the number he had dependent upon him.
An unmarried man could save, if he did not drink, and if he was
absolutely selfish--that is, if he paid no heed to the demands of
his old parents, or of his little brothers and sisters, or of any
other relatives he might have, as well as of the members of his union,
and his chums, and the people who might be starving to death next door.
The Jungle Chapter 13