From The Jungle
They had bought their home. It was hard for them to realize that the
wonderful house was theirs to move into whenever they chose. They spent
all their time thinking about it, and what they were going to put into it.
As their week with Aniele was up in three days, they lost no time in
getting ready. They had to make some shift to furnish it, and every
instant of their leisure was given to discussing this.
A person who had such a task before him would not need to look very far
in Packingtown--he had only to walk up the avenue and read the signs,
or get into a streetcar, to obtain full information as to pretty much
everything a human creature could need. It was quite touching, the
zeal of people to see that his health and happiness were provided for.
Did the person wish to smoke? There was a little discourse about cigars,
showing him exactly why the Thomas Jefferson Five-cent Perfecto was the
only cigar worthy of the name. Had he, on the other hand, smoked too much?
Here was a remedy for the smoking habit, twenty-five doses for a quarter,
and a cure absolutely guaranteed in ten doses. In innumerable ways such
as this, the traveler found that somebody had been busied to make smooth
his paths through the world, and to let him know what had been done for him.
In Packingtown the advertisements had a style all of their own, adapted to
the peculiar population. One would be tenderly solicitous. "Is your wife
pale?" it would inquire. "Is she discouraged, does she drag herself about
the house and find fault with everything? Why do you not tell her to try
Dr. Lanahan's Life Preservers?" Another would be jocular in tone,
slapping you on the back, so to speak. "Don't be a chump!" it would
exclaim. "Go and get the Goliath Bunion Cure." "Get a move on you!"
would chime in another. "It's easy, if you wear the Eureka Two-fifty Shoe."
Among these importunate signs was one that had caught the attention of
the family by its pictures. It showed two very pretty little birds
building themselves a home; and Marija had asked an acquaintance to read
it to her, and told them that it related to the furnishing of a house.
"Feather your nest," it ran--and went on to say that it could furnish
all the necessary feathers for a four-room nest for the ludicrously
small sum of seventy-five dollars. The particularly important thing
about this offer was that only a small part of the money need be had
at once--the rest one might pay a few dollars every month. Our friends
had to have some furniture, there was no getting away from that; but their
little fund of money had sunk so low that they could hardly get to sleep
at night, and so they fled to this as their deliverance. There was more
agony and another paper for Elzbieta to sign, and then one night when
Jurgis came home, he was told the breathless tidings that the furniture
had arrived and was safely stowed in the house: a parlor set of four
pieces, a bedroom set of three pieces, a dining room table and four
chairs, a toilet set with beautiful pink roses painted all over it,
an assortment of crockery, also with pink roses--and so on. One of
the plates in the set had been found broken when they unpacked it,
and Ona was going to the store the first thing in the morning to make
them change it; also they had promised three saucepans, and there had
only two come, and did Jurgis think that they were trying to cheat them?
The next day they went to the house; and when the men came from work
they ate a few hurried mouthfuls at Aniele's, and then set to work at
the task of carrying their belongings to their new home. The distance
was in reality over two miles, but Jurgis made two trips that night,
each time with a huge pile of mattresses and bedding on his head,
with bundles of clothing and bags and things tied up inside. Anywhere
else in Chicago he would have stood a good chance of being arrested;
but the policemen in Packingtown were apparently used to these informal
movings, and contented themselves with a cursory examination now and then.
It was quite wonderful to see how fine the house looked, with all the
things in it, even by the dim light of a lamp: it was really home,
and almost as exciting as the placard had described it. Ona was fairly
dancing, and she and Cousin Marija took Jurgis by the arm and escorted
him from room to room, sitting in each chair by turns, and then insisting
that he should do the same. One chair squeaked with his great weight,
and they screamed with fright, and woke the baby and brought everybody
running. Altogether it was a great day; and tired as they were, Jurgis
and Ona sat up late, contented simply to hold each other and gaze in
rapture about the room. They were going to be married as soon as they
could get everything settled, and a little spare money put by; and this
was to be their home--that little room yonder would be theirs!
It was in truth a never-ending delight, the fixing up of this house.
They had no money to spend for the pleasure of spending, but there were
a few absolutely necessary things, and the buying of these was a perpetual
adventure for Ona. It must always be done at night, so that Jurgis
could go along; and even if it were only a pepper cruet, or half a dozen
glasses for ten cents, that was enough for an expedition. On Saturday
night they came home with a great basketful of things, and spread them
out on the table, while every one stood round, and the children climbed
up on the chairs, or howled to be lifted up to see. There were sugar
and salt and tea and crackers, and a can of lard and a milk pail, and a
scrubbing brush, and a pair of shoes for the second oldest boy, and a can
of oil, and a tack hammer, and a pound of nails. These last were to be
driven into the walls of the kitchen and the bedrooms, to hang things on;
and there was a family discussion as to the place where each one was to
be driven. Then Jurgis would try to hammer, and hit his fingers because
the hammer was too small, and get mad because Ona had refused to let him
pay fifteen cents more and get a bigger hammer; and Ona would be invited
to try it herself, and hurt her thumb, and cry out, which necessitated the
thumb's being kissed by Jurgis. Finally, after every one had had a try,
the nails would be driven, and something hung up. Jurgis had come home
with a big packing box on his head, and he sent Jonas to get another that
he had bought. He meant to take one side out of these tomorrow, and put
shelves in them, and make them into bureaus and places to keep things for
the bedrooms. The nest which had been advertised had not included feathers
for quite so many birds as there were in this family.
They had, of course, put their dining table in the kitchen, and the
dining room was used as the bedroom of Teta Elzbieta and five of her
children. She and the two youngest slept in the only bed, and the
other three had a mattress on the floor. Ona and her cousin dragged a
mattress into the parlor and slept at night, and the three men and the
oldest boy slept in the other room, having nothing but the very level
floor to rest on for the present. Even so, however, they slept soundly--
it was necessary for Teta Elzbieta to pound more than once on the at a
quarter past five every morning. She would have ready a great pot full
of steaming black coffee, and oatmeal and bread and smoked sausages;
and then she would fix them their dinner pails with more thick slices
of bread with lard between them--they could not afford butter--and some
onions and a piece of cheese, and so they would tramp away to work.
This was the first time in his life that he had ever really worked,
it seemed to Jurgis; it was the first time that he had ever had anything
to do which took all he had in him. Jurgis had stood with the rest up
in the gallery and watched the men on the killing beds, marveling at their
speed and power as if they had been wonderful machines; it somehow never
occurred to one to think of the flesh-and-blood side of it--that is, not
until he actually got down into the pit and took off his coat. Then he saw
things in a different light, he got at the inside of them. The pace they
set here, it was one that called for every faculty of a man--from the
instant the first steer fell till the sounding of the noon whistle, and
again from half-past twelve till heaven only knew what hour in the late
afternoon or evening, there was never one instant's rest for a man, for his
hand or his eye or his brain. Jurgis saw how they managed it; there were
portions of the work which determined the pace of the rest, and for these
they had picked men whom they paid high wages, and whom they changed
frequently. You might easily pick out these pacemakers, for they worked
under the eye of the bosses, and they worked like men possessed. This was
called "speeding up the gang," and if any man could not keep up with the
pace, there were hundreds outside begging to try.
Yet Jurgis did not mind it; he rather enjoyed it. It saved him the
necessity of flinging his arms about and fidgeting as he did in most work.
He would laugh to himself as he ran down the line, darting a glance now
and then at the man ahead of him. It was not the pleasantest work one
could think of, but it was necessary work; and what more had a man the
right to ask than a chance to do something useful, and to get good pay
for doing it?
So Jurgis thought, and so he spoke, in his bold, free way; very much
to his surprise, he found that it had a tendency to get him into trouble.
For most of the men here took a fearfully different view of the thing.
He was quite dismayed when he first began to find it out--that most of
the men hated their work. It seemed strange, it was even terrible, when
you came to find out the universality of the sentiment; but it was
certainly the fact--they hated their work. They hated the bosses and
they hated the owners; they hated the whole place, the whole neighborhood--
even the whole city, with an all-inclusive hatred, bitter and fierce.
Women and little children would fall to cursing about it; it was rotten,
rotten as hell--everything was rotten. When Jurgis would ask them what
they meant, they would begin to get suspicious, and content themselves
with saying, "Never mind, you stay here and see for yourself."
One of the first problems that Jurgis ran upon was that of the unions.
He had had no experience with unions, and he had to have it explained
to him that the men were banded together for the purpose of fighting
for their rights. Jurgis asked them what they meant by their rights,
a question in which he was quite sincere, for he had not any idea of any
rights that he had, except the right to hunt for a job, and do as he was
told when he got it. Generally, however, this harmless question would
only make his fellow workingmen lose their tempers and call him a fool.
There was a delegate of the butcher-helpers' union who came to see Jurgis
to enroll him; and when Jurgis found that this meant that he would have
to part with some of his money, he froze up directly, and the delegate,
who was an Irishman and only knew a few words of Lithuanian, lost his
temper and began to threaten him. In the end Jurgis got into a fine rage,
and made it sufficiently plain that it would take more than one Irishman
to scare him into a union. Little by little he gathered that the main
thing the men wanted was to put a stop to the habit of "speeding-up";
they were trying their best to force a lessening of the pace, for there
were some, they said, who could not keep up with it, whom it was killing.
But Jurgis had no sympathy with such ideas as this--he could do the work
himself, and so could the rest of them, he declared, if they were good
for anything. If they couldn't do it, let them go somewhere else.
Jurgis had not studied the books, and he would not have known how to
pronounce "laissez faire"; but he had been round the world enough to know
that a man has to shift for himself in it, and that if he gets the worst
of it, there is nobody to listen to him holler.
Yet there have been known to be philosophers and plain men who swore by
Malthus in the books, and would, nevertheless, subscribe to a relief fund
in time of a famine. It was the same with Jurgis, who consigned the
unfit to destruction, while going about all day sick at heart because of
his poor old father, who was wandering somewhere in the yards begging for
a chance to earn his bread. Old Antanas had been a worker ever since he
was a child; he had run away from home when he was twelve, because his
father beat him for trying to learn to read. And he was a faithful man,
too; he was a man you might leave alone for a month, if only you had made
him understand what you wanted him to do in the meantime. And now here
he was, worn out in soul and body, and with no more place in the world
than a sick dog. He had his home, as it happened, and some one who would
care for him it he never got a job; but his son could not help thinking,
suppose this had not been the case. Antanas Rudkus had been into every
building in Packingtown by this time, and into nearly every room; he had
stood mornings among the crowd of applicants till the very policemen had
come to know his face and to tell him to go home and give it up. He had
been likewise to all the stores and saloons for a mile about, begging
for some little thing to do; and everywhere they had ordered him out,
sometimes with curses, and not once even stopping to ask him a question.
So, after all, there was a crack in the fine structure of Jurgis' faith
in things as they are. The crack was wide while Dede Antanas was hunting
a job--and it was yet wider when he finally got it. For one evening the
old man came home in a great state of excitement, with the tale that he
had been approached by a man in one of the corridors of the pickle rooms
of Durham's, and asked what he would pay to get a job. He had not known
what to make of this at first; but the man had gone on with matter-of-fact
frankness to say that he could get him a job, provided that he were
willing to pay one-third of his wages for it. Was he a boss? Antanas
had asked; to which the man had replied that that was nobody's business,
but that he could do what he said.
Jurgis had made some friends by this time, and he sought one of them and
asked what this meant. The friend, who was named Tamoszius Kuszleika,
was a sharp little man who folded hides on the killing beds, and he
listened to what Jurgis had to say without seeming at all surprised.
They were common enough, he said, such cases of petty graft. It was
simply some boss who proposed to add a little to his income. After Jurgis
had been there awhile he would know that the plants were simply honeycombed
with rottenness of that sort--the bosses grafted off the men, and they
grafted off each other; and some day the superintendent would find out
about the boss, and then he would graft off the boss. Warming to the
subject, Tamoszius went on to explain the situation. Here was Durham's,
for instance, owned by a man who was trying to make as much money out
of it as he could, and did not care in the least how he did it; and
underneath him, ranged in ranks and grades like an army, were managers
and superintendents and foremen, each one driving the man next below
him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible. And all
the men of the same rank were pitted against each other; the accounts
of each were kept separately, and every man lived in terror of losing
his job, if another made a better record than he. So from top to bottom
the place was simply a seething caldron of jealousies and hatreds; there
was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it
where a man counted for anything against a dollar. And worse than there
being no decency, there was not even any honesty. The reason for that?
Who could say? It must have been old Durham in the beginning; it was a
heritage which the self-made merchant had left to his son, along with
Jurgis would find out these things for himself, if he stayed there long
enough; it was the men who had to do all the dirty jobs, and so there
was no deceiving them; and they caught the spirit of the place, and did
like all the rest. Jurgis had come there, and thought he was going to
make himself useful, and rise and become a skilled man; but he would soon
find out his error--for nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good work.
You could lay that down for a rule--if you met a man who was rising in
Packingtown, you met a knave. That man who had been sent to Jurgis'
father by the boss, he would rise; the man who told tales and spied upon
his fellows would rise; but the man who minded his own business and did his
work--why, they would "speed him up" till they had worn him out, and then
they would throw him into the gutter.
Jurgis went home with his head buzzing. Yet he could not bring himself
to believe such things--no, it could not be so. Tamoszius was simply
another of the grumblers. He was a man who spent all his time fiddling;
and he would go to parties at night and not get home till sunrise,
and so of course he did not feel like work. Then, too, he was a puny
little chap; and so he had been left behind in the race, and that was
why he was sore. And yet so many strange things kept coming to Jurgis'
notice every day!
He tried to persuade his father to have nothing to do with the offer.
But old Antanas had begged until he was worn out, and all his courage
was gone; he wanted a job, any sort of a job. So the next day he went
and found the man who had spoken to him, and promised to bring him
a third of all he earned; and that same day he was put to work in Durham's
cellars. It was a "pickle room," where there was never a dry spot to
stand upon, and so he had to take nearly the whole of his first week's
earnings to buy him a pair of heavy-soled boots. He was a "squeedgie" man;
his job was to go about all day with a long-handled mop, swabbing up the
floor. Except that it was damp and dark, it was not an unpleasant job,
Now Antanas Rudkus was the meekest man that God ever put on earth; and so
Jurgis found it a striking confirmation of what the men all said, that
his father had been at work only two days before he came home as bitter
as any of them, and cursing Durham's with all the power of his soul.
For they had set him to cleaning out the traps; and the family sat round
and listened in wonder while he told them what that meant. It seemed
that he was working in the room where the men prepared the beef for
canning, and the beef had lain in vats full of chemicals, and men with
great forks speared it out and dumped it into trucks, to be taken to
the cooking room. When they had speared out all they could reach, they
emptied the vat on the floor, and then with shovels scraped up the
balance and dumped it into the truck. This floor was filthy, yet they
set Antanas with his mop slopping the "pickle" into a hole that
connected with a sink, where it was caught and used over again forever;
and if that were not enough, there was a trap in the pipe, where all the
scraps of meat and odds and ends of refuse were caught, and every few
days it was the old man's task to clean these out, and shovel their
contents into one of the trucks with the rest of the meat!
This was the experience of Antanas; and then there came also Jonas and
Marija with tales to tell. Marija was working for one of the independent
packers, and was quite beside herself and outrageous with triumph over
the sums of money she was making as a painter of cans. But one day she
walked home with a pale-faced little woman who worked opposite to her,
Jadvyga Marcinkus by name, and Jadvyga told her how she, Marija, had
chanced to get her job. She had taken the place of an Irishwoman who
had been working in that factory ever since any one could remember.
For over fifteen years, so she declared. Mary Dennis was her name,
and a long time ago she had been seduced, and had a little boy; he was
a cripple, and an epileptic, but still he was all that she had in the
world to love, and they had lived in a little room alone somewhere back
of Halsted Street, where the Irish were. Mary had had consumption,
and all day long you might hear her coughing as she worked; of late
she had been going all to pieces, and when Marija came, the "forelady"
had suddenly decided to turn her off. The forelady had to come up to
a certain standard herself, and could not stop for sick people, Jadvyga
explained. The fact that Mary had been there so long had not made any
difference to her--it was doubtful if she even knew that, for both the
forelady and the superintendent were new people, having only been there
two or three years themselves. Jadvyga did not know what had become of
the poor creature; she would have gone to see her, but had been sick
herself. She had pains in her back all the time, Jadvyga explained,
and feared that she had womb trouble. It was not fit work for a woman,
handling fourteen-pound cans all day.
It was a striking circumstance that Jonas, too, had gotten his job by the
misfortune of some other person. Jonas pushed a truck loaded with hams
from the smoke rooms on to an elevator, and thence to the packing rooms.
The trucks were all of iron, and heavy, and they put about threescore hams
on each of them, a load of more than a quarter of a ton. On the uneven
floor it was a task for a man to start one of these trucks, unless he was
a giant; and when it was once started he naturally tried his best to keep
it going. There was always the boss prowling about, and if there was a
second's delay he would fall to cursing; Lithuanians and Slovaks and such,
who could not understand what was said to them, the bosses were wont to
kick about the place like so many dogs. Therefore these trucks went for
the most part on the run; and the predecessor of Jonas had been jammed
against the wall by one and crushed in a horrible and nameless manner.
All of these were sinister incidents; but they were trifles compared to
what Jurgis saw with his own eyes before long. One curious thing he had
noticed, the very first day, in his profession of shoveler of guts; which
was the sharp trick of the floor bosses whenever there chanced to come
a "slunk" calf. Any man who knows anything about butchering knows that
the flesh of a cow that is about to calve, or has just calved, is not fit
for food. A good many of these came every day to the packing houses--and,
of course, if they had chosen, it would have been an easy matter for the
packers to keep them till they were fit for food. But for the saving of
time and fodder, it was the law that cows of that sort came along with
the others, and whoever noticed it would tell the boss, and the boss would
start up a conversation with the government inspector, and the two would
stroll away. So in a trice the carcass of the cow would be cleaned out,
and entrails would have vanished; it was Jurgis' task to slide them
into the trap, calves and all, and on the floor below they took out
these "slunk" calves, and butchered them for meat, and used even the skins
One day a man slipped and hurt his leg; and that afternoon, when the
last of the cattle had been disposed of, and the men were leaving,
Jurgis was ordered to remain and do some special work which this injured
man had usually done. It was late, almost dark, and the government
inspectors had all gone, and there were only a dozen or two of men on
the floor. That day they had killed about four thousand cattle, and these
cattle had come in freight trains from far states, and some of them had
got hurt. There were some with broken legs, and some with gored sides;
there were some that had died, from what cause no one could say; and they
were all to be disposed of, here in darkness and silence. "Downers," the
men called them; and the packing house had a special elevator upon which
they were raised to the killing beds, where the gang proceeded to handle
them, with an air of businesslike nonchalance which said plainer than
any words that it was a matter of everyday routine. It took a couple of
hours to get them out of the way, and in the end Jurgis saw them go into
the chilling rooms with the rest of the meat, being carefully scattered
here and there so that they could not be identified. When he came home
that night he was in a very somber mood, having begun to see at last
how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America.
The Jungle Chapter 6