From The Jungle
But a big man cannot stay drunk very long on three dollars. That was
Sunday morning, and Monday night Jurgis came home, sober and sick,
realizing that he had spent every cent the family owned, and had not
bought a single instant's forgetfulness with it.
Ona was not yet buried; but the police had been notified, and on the
morrow they would put the body in a pine coffin and take it to the
potter's field. Elzbieta was out begging now, a few pennies from
each of the neighbors, to get enough to pay for a mass for her;
and the children were upstairs starving to death, while he,
good-for-nothing rascal, had been spending their money on drink.
So spoke Aniele, scornfully, and when he started toward the fire
she added the information that her kitchen was no longer for him
to fill with his phosphate stinks. She had crowded all her boarders
into one room on Ona's account, but now he could go up in the garret
where he belonged--and not there much longer, either, if he did not
pay her some rent.
Jurgis went without a word, and, stepping over half a dozen sleeping
boarders in the next room, ascended the ladder. It was dark up above;
they could not afford any light; also it was nearly as cold as outdoors.
In a corner, as far away from the corpse as possible, sat Marija,
holding little Antanas in her one good arm and trying to soothe him
to sleep. In another corner crouched poor little Juozapas, wailing
because he had had nothing to eat all day. Marija said not a word
to Jurgis; he crept in like a whipped cur, and went and sat down
by the body.
Perhaps he ought to have meditated upon the hunger of the children,
and upon his own baseness; but he thought only of Ona, he gave himself
up again to the luxury of grief. He shed no tears, being ashamed
to make a sound; he sat motionless and shuddering with his anguish.
He had never dreamed how much he loved Ona, until now that she was gone;
until now that he sat here, knowing that on the morrow they would
take her away, and that he would never lay eyes upon her again--never
all the days of his life. His old love, which had been starved
to death, beaten to death, awoke in him again; the floodgates of
memory were lifted--he saw all their life together, saw her as he
had seen her in Lithuania, the first day at the fair, beautiful as
the flowers, singing like a bird. He saw her as he had married her,
with all her tenderness, with her heart of wonder; the very words
she had spoken seemed to ring now in his ears, the tears she had shed
to be wet upon his cheek. The long, cruel battle with misery and
hunger had hardened and embittered him, but it had not changed her--
she had been the same hungry soul to the end, stretching out her arms
to him, pleading with him, begging him for love and tenderness.
And she had suffered--so cruelly she had suffered, such agonies,
such infamies--ah, God, the memory of them was not to be borne.
What a monster of wickedness, of heartlessness, he had been!
Every angry word that he had ever spoken came back to him and cut
him like a knife; every selfish act that he had done--with what
torments he paid for them now! And such devotion and awe as welled
up in his soul--now that it could never be spoken, now that it was
too late, too late! His bosom-was choking with it, bursting with it;
he crouched here in the darkness beside her, stretching out his arms
to her--and she was gone forever, she was dead! He could have
screamed aloud with the horror and despair of it; a sweat of agony
beaded his forehead, yet he dared not make a sound--he scarcely dared
to breathe, because of his shame and loathing of himself.
Late at night came Elzbieta, having gotten the money for a mass,
and paid for it in advance, lest she should be tempted too sorely
at home. She brought also a bit of stale rye bread that some one
had given her, and with that they quieted the children and got them
to sleep. Then she came over to Jurgis and sat down beside him.
She said not a word of reproach--she and Marija had chosen that
course before; she would only plead with him, here by the corpse of
his dead wife. Already Elzbieta had choked down her tears, grief
being crowded out of her soul by fear. She had to bury one of her
children--but then she had done it three times before, and each time
risen up and gone back to take up the battle for the rest. Elzbieta
was one of the primitive creatures: like the angleworm, which goes
on living though cut in half; like a hen, which, deprived of her
chickens one by one, will mother the last that is left her. She did
this because it was her nature--she asked no questions about the
justice of it, nor the worth-whileness of life in which destruction
and death ran riot.
And this old common-sense view she labored to impress upon Jurgis,
pleading with him with tears in her eyes. Ona was dead, but the
others were left and they must be saved. She did not ask for her
own children. She and Marija could care for them somehow, but there
was Antanas, his own son. Ona had given Antanas to him--the little
fellow was the only remembrance of her that he had; he must treasure
it and protect it, he must show himself a man. He knew what Ona would
have had him do, what she would ask of him at this moment, if she
could speak to him. It was a terrible thing that she should have
died as she had; but the life had been too hard for her, and she
had to go. It was terrible that they were not able to bury her,
that he could not even have a day to mourn her--but so it was.
Their fate was pressing; they had not a cent, and the children would
perish--some money must be had. Could he not be a man for Ona's sake,
and pull himself together? In a little while they would be out of
danger--now that they had given up the house they could live more
cheaply, and with all the children working they could get along,
if only he would not go to pieces. So Elzbieta went on, with feverish
intensity. It was a struggle for life with her; she was not afraid
that Jurgis would go on drinking, for he had no money for that,
but she was wild with dread at the thought that he might desert them,
might take to the road, as Jonas had done.
But with Ona's dead body beneath his eyes, Jurgis could not well
think of treason to his child. Yes, he said, he would try, for the
sake of Antanas. He would give the little fellow his chance--would
get to work at once, yes, tomorrow, without even waiting for Ona to be
buried. They might trust him, he would keep his word, come what might.
And so he was out before daylight the next morning, headache,
heartache, and all. He went straight to Graham's fertilizer mill,
to see if he could get back his job. But the boss shook his head
when he saw him--no, his place had been filled long ago, and there
was no room for him.
"Do you think there will be?" Jurgis asked. "I may have to wait."
"No," said the other, "it will not be worth your while to wait--there
will be nothing for you here."
Jurgis stood gazing at him in perplexity. "What is the matter?"
he asked. "Didn't I do my work?"
The other met his look with one of cold indifference, and answered,
"There will be nothing for you here, I said."
Jurgis had his suspicions as to the dreadful meaning of that incident,
and he went away with a sinking at the heart. He went and took his
stand with the mob of hungry wretches who were standing about in
the snow before the time station. Here he stayed, breakfastless,
for two hours, until the throng was driven away by the clubs of
the police. There was no work for him that day.
Jurgis had made a good many acquaintances in his long services at the
yards--there were saloonkeepers who would trust him for a drink and a
sandwich, and members of his old union who would lend him a dime at
a pinch. It was not a question of life and death for him, therefore;
he might hunt all day, and come again on the morrow, and try hanging
on thus for weeks, like hundreds and thousands of others. Meantime,
Teta Elzbieta would go and beg, over in the Hyde Park district,
and the children would bring home enough to pacify Aniele, and keep
them all alive.
It was at the end of a week of this sort of waiting, roaming about
in the bitter winds or loafing in saloons, that Jurgis stumbled on
a chance in one of the cellars of Jones's big packing plant. He saw
a foreman passing the open doorway, and hailed him for a job.
"Push a truck?" inquired the man, and Jurgis answered, "Yes, sir!"
before the words were well out of his mouth.
"What's your name?" demanded the other.
"Worked in the yards before?"
"Two places--Brown's killing beds and Durham's fertilizer mill."
"Why did you leave there?"
"The first time I had an accident, and the last time I was sent up
for a month."
"I see. Well, I'll give you a trial. Come early tomorrow and ask
for Mr. Thomas."
So Jurgis rushed home with the wild tidings that he had a job--that
the terrible siege was over. The remnants of the family had quite
a celebration that night; and in the morning Jurgis was at the place
half an hour before the time of opening. The foreman came in shortly
afterward, and when he saw Jurgis he frowned.
"Oh," he said, "I promised you a job, didn't I?"
"Yes, sir," said Jurgis.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I made a mistake. I can't use you."
Jurgis stared, dumfounded. "What's the matter?" he gasped.
"Nothing," said the man, "only I can't use you."
There was the same cold, hostile stare that he had had from the boss
of the fertilizer mill. He knew that there was no use in saying
a word, and he turned and went away.
Out in the saloons the men could tell him all about the meaning of it;
they gazed at him with pitying eyes--poor devil, he was blacklisted!
What had he done? they asked--knocked down his boss? Good heavens,
then he might have known! Why, he stood as much chance of getting
a job in Packingtown as of being chosen mayor of Chicago. Why had
he wasted his time hunting? They had him on a secret list in every
office, big and little, in the place. They had his name by this time
in St. Louis and New York, in Omaha and Boston, in Kansas City and
St. Joseph. He was condemned and sentenced, without trial and
without appeal; he could never work for the packers again--he could
not even clean cattle pens or drive a truck in any place where they
controlled. He might try it, if he chose, as hundreds had tried it,
and found out for themselves. He would never be told anything about it;
he would never get any more satisfaction than he had gotten just now;
but he would always find when the time came that he was not needed.
It would not do for him to give any other name, either--they had
company "spotters" for just that purpose, and he wouldn't keep a job
in Packingtown three days. It was worth a fortune to the packers to
keep their blacklist effective, as a warning to the men and a means
of keeping down union agitation and political discontent.
Jurgis went home, carrying these new tidings to the family council.
It was a most cruel thing; here in this district was his home,
such as it was, the place he was used to and the friends he knew--
and now every possibility of employment in it was closed to him.
There was nothing in Packingtown but packing houses; and so it was
the same thing as evicting him from his home.
He and the two women spent all day and half the night discussing it.
It would be convenient, downtown, to the children's place of work;
but then Marija was on the road to recovery, and had hopes of getting
a job in the yards; and though she did not see her old-time lover
once a month, because of the misery of their state, yet she could
not make up her mind to go away and give him up forever. Then, too,
Elzbieta had heard something about a chance to scrub floors in
Durham's offices and was waiting every day for word. In the end
it was decided that Jurgis should go downtown to strike out for
himself, and they would decide after he got a job. As there was
no one from whom he could borrow there, and he dared not beg for
fear of being arrested, it was arranged that every day he should
meet one of the children and be given fifteen cents of their earnings,
upon which he could keep going. Then all day he was to pace the
streets with hundreds and thousands of other homeless wretches
inquiring at stores, warehouses, and factories for a chance; and at
night he was to crawl into some doorway or underneath a truck,
and hide there until midnight, when he might get into one of the
station houses, and spread a newspaper upon the floor, and lie down
in the midst of a throng of "bums" and beggars, reeking with alcohol
and tobacco, and filthy with vermin and disease.
So for two weeks more Jurgis fought with the demon of despair.
Once he got a chance to load a truck for half a day, and again he
carried an old woman's valise and was given a quarter. This let
him into a lodginghouse on several nights when he might otherwise
have frozen to death; and it also gave him a chance now and then
to buy a newspaper in the morning and hunt up jobs while his rivals
were watching and waiting for a paper to be thrown away. This, however,
was really not the advantage it seemed, for the newspaper advertisements
were a cause of much loss of precious time and of many weary journeys.
A full half of these were "fakes," put in by the endless variety of
establishments which preyed upon the helpless ignorance of the
unemployed. If Jurgis lost only his time, it was because he had
nothing else to lose; whenever a smooth-tongued agent would tell
him of the wonderful positions he had on hand, he could only shake
his head sorrowfully and say that he had not the necessary dollar
to deposit; when it was explained to him what "big money" he and all
his family could make by coloring photographs, he could only promise
to come in again when he had two dollars to invest in the outfit.
In the end Jurgis got a chance through an accidental meeting with
an old-time acquaintance of his union days. He met this man on his
way to work in the giant factories of the Harvester Trust; and his
friend told him to come along and he would speak a good word for him
to his boss, whom he knew well. So Jurgis trudged four or five miles,
and passed through a waiting throng of unemployed at the gate under
the escort of his friend. His knees nearly gave way beneath him when
the foreman, after looking him over and questioning him, told him
that he could find an opening for him.
How much this accident meant to Jurgis he realized only by stages;
for he found that the harvester works were the sort of place to
which philanthropists and reformers pointed with pride. It had
some thought for its employees; its workshops were big and roomy,
it provided a restaurant where the workmen could buy good food
at cost, it had even a reading room, and decent places where its
girl-hands could rest; also the work was free from many of the
elements of filth and repulsiveness that prevailed at the stockyards.
Day after day Jurgis discovered these things--things never expected
nor dreamed of by him--until this new place came to seem a kind of
a heaven to him.
It was an enormous establishment, covering a hundred and sixty acres
of ground, employing five thousand people, and turning out over
three hundred thousand machines every year--a good part of all the
harvesting and mowing machines used in the country. Jurgis saw very
little of it, of course--it was all specialized work, the same as at
the stockyards; each one of the hundreds of parts of a mowing machine
was made separately, and sometimes handled by hundreds of men.
Where Jurgis worked there was a machine which cut and stamped a
certain piece of steel about two square inches in size; the pieces
came tumbling out upon a tray, and all that human hands had to do
was to pile them in regular rows, and change the trays at intervals.
This was done by a single boy, who stood with eyes and thought
centered upon it, and fingers flying so fast that the sounds of the
bits of steel striking upon each other was like the music of an
express train as one hears it in a sleeping car at night. This was
"piece-work," of course; and besides it was made certain that the boy
did not idle, by setting the machine to match the highest possible
speed of human hands. Thirty thousand of these pieces he handled
every day, nine or ten million every year--how many in a lifetime
it rested with the gods to say. Near by him men sat bending over
whirling grindstones, putting the finishing touches to the steel
knives of the reaper; picking them out of a basket with the right
hand, pressing first one side and then the other against the stone
and finally dropping them with the left hand into another basket.
One of these men told Jurgis that he had sharpened three thousand
pieces of steel a day for thirteen years. In the next room were
wonderful machines that ate up long steel rods by slow stages,
cutting them off, seizing the pieces, stamping heads upon them,
grinding them and polishing them, threading them, and finally
dropping them into a basket, all ready to bolt the harvesters
together. From yet another machine came tens of thousands of steel
burs to fit upon these bolts. In other places all these various
parts were dipped into troughs of paint and hung up to dry, and then
slid along on trolleys to a room where men streaked them with red
and yellow, so that they might look cheerful in the harvest fields.
Jurgis's friend worked upstairs in the casting rooms, and his task
was to make the molds of a certain part. He shoveled black sand
into an iron receptacle and pounded it tight and set it aside to
harden; then it would be taken out, and molten iron poured into it.
This man, too, was paid by the mold--or rather for perfect castings,
nearly half his work going for naught. You might see him, along with
dozens of others, toiling like one possessed by a whole community
of demons; his arms working like the driving rods of an engine,
his long, black hair flying wild, his eyes starting out, the sweat
rolling in rivers down his face. When he had shoveled the mold full
of sand, and reached for the pounder to pound it with, it was after
the manner of a canoeist running rapids and seizing a pole at sight
of a submerged rock. All day long this man would toil thus, his whole
being centered upon the purpose of making twenty-three instead of
twenty-two and a half cents an hour; and then his product would be
reckoned up by the census taker, and jubilant captains of industry
would boast of it in their banquet halls, telling how our workers
are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country. If we
are the greatest nation the sun ever shone upon, it would seem to be
mainly because we have been able to goad our wage-earners to this
pitch of frenzy; though there are a few other things that are great
among us including our drink-bill, which is a billion and a quarter
of dollars a year, and doubling itself every decade.
There was a machine which stamped out the iron plates, and then
another which, with a mighty thud, mashed them to the shape of the
sitting-down portion of the American farmer. Then they were piled
upon a truck, and it was Jurgis's task to wheel them to the room
where the machines were "assembled." This was child's play for him,
and he got a dollar and seventy-five cents a day for it; on Saturday
he paid Aniele the seventy-five cents a week he owed her for the use
of her garret, and also redeemed his overcoat, which Elzbieta had
put in pawn when he was in jail.
This last was a great blessing. A man cannot go about in midwinter
in Chicago with no overcoat and not pay for it, and Jurgis had to
walk or ride five or six miles back and forth to his work. lt so
happened that half of this was in one direction and half in another,
necessitating a change of cars; the law required that transfers be
given at all intersecting points, but the railway corporation had
gotten round this by arranging a pretense at separate ownership.
So whenever he wished to ride, he had to pay ten cents each way,
or over ten per cent of his income to this power, which had gotten
its franchises long ago by buying up the city council, in the face
of popular clamor amounting almost to a rebellion. Tired as he felt
at night, and dark and bitter cold as it was in the morning, Jurgis
generally chose to walk; at the hours other workmen were traveling,
the streetcar monopoly saw fit to put on so few cars that there
would be men hanging to every foot of the backs of them and often
crouching upon the snow-covered roof. Of course the doors could
never be closed, and so the cars were as cold as outdoors; Jurgis,
like many others, found it better to spend his fare for a drink and
a free lunch, to give him strength to walk.
These, however, were all slight matters to a man who had escaped from
Durham's fertilizer mill. Jurgis began to pick up heart again and
to make plans. He had lost his house but then the awful load of
the rent and interest was off his shoulders, and when Marija was
well again they could start over and save. In the shop where he
worked was a man, a Lithuanian like himself, whom the others spoke
of in admiring whispers, because of the mighty feats he was performing.
All day he sat at a machine turning bolts; and then in the evening
he went to the public school to study English and learn to read.
In addition, because he had a family of eight children to support
and his earnings were not enough, on Saturdays and Sundays he served
as a watchman; he was required to press two buttons at opposite ends
of a building every five minutes, and as the walk only took him two
minutes, he had three minutes to study between each trip. Jurgis felt
jealous of this fellow; for that was the sort of thing he himself
had dreamed of, two or three years ago. He might do it even yet,
if he had a fair chance--he might attract attention and become
a skilled man or a boss, as some had done in this place. Suppose
that Marija could get a job in the big mill where they made binder
twine--then they would move into this neighborhood, and he would
really have a chance. With a hope like that, there was some use
in living; to find a place where you were treated like a human being--
by God! he would show them how he could appreciate it. He laughed
to himself as he thought how he would hang on to this job!
And then one afternoon, the ninth of his work in the place, when he
went to get his overcoat he saw a group of men crowded before a
placard on the door, and when he went over and asked what it was,
they told him that beginning with the morrow his department of the
harvester works would be closed until further notice!
The Jungle Chapter 21