From The Jungle
During the early part of the winter the family had had money enough
to live and a little over to pay their debts with; but when the
earnings of Jurgis fell from nine or ten dollars a week to five or six,
there was no longer anything to spare. The winter went, and the
spring came, and found them still living thus from hand to mouth,
hanging on day by day, with literally not a month's wages between
them and starvation. Marija was in despair, for there was still
no word about the reopening of the canning factory, and her savings
were almost entirely gone. She had had to give up all idea of
marrying then; the family could not get along without her--though for
that matter she was likely soon to become a burden even upon them,
for when her money was all gone, they would have to pay back what
they owed her in board. So Jurgis and Ona and Teta Elzbieta would
hold anxious conferences until late at night, trying to figure how
they could manage this too without starving.
Such were the cruel terms upon which their life was possible,
that they might never have nor expect a single instant's respite
from worry, a single instant in which they were not haunted by the
thought of money. They would no sooner escape, as by a miracle,
from one difficulty, than a new one would come into view. In addition
to all their physical hardships, there was thus a constant strain
upon their minds; they were harried all day and nearly all night by
worry and fear. This was in truth not living; it was scarcely even
existing, and they felt that it was too little for the price they paid.
They were willing to work all the time; and when people did their best,
ought they not to be able to keep alive?
There seemed never to be an end to the things they had to buy and to
the unforeseen contingencies. Once their water pipes froze and burst;
and when, in their ignorance, they thawed them out, they had a
terrifying flood in their house. It happened while the men were away,
and poor Elzbieta rushed out into the street screaming for help,
for she did not even know whether the flood could be stopped, or whether
they were ruined for life. It was nearly as bad as the latter, they
found in the end, for the plumber charged them seventy-five cents
an hour, and seventy-five cents for another man who had stood and
watched him, and included all the time the two had been going and
coming, and also a charge for all sorts of material and extras.
And then again, when they went to pay their January's installment on
the house, the agent terrified them by asking them if they had had the
insurance attended to yet. In answer to their inquiry he showed them
a clause in the deed which provided that they were to keep the house
insured for one thousand dollars, as soon as the present policy ran out,
which would happen in a few days. Poor Elzbieta, upon whom again fell
the blow, demanded how much it would cost them. Seven dollars, the man
said; and that night came Jurgis, grim and determined, requesting that
the agent would be good enough to inform him, once for all, as to all
the expenses they were liable for. The deed was signed now, he said,
with sarcasm proper to the new way of life he had learned--the deed was
signed, and so the agent had no longer anything to gain by keeping quiet.
And Jurgis looked the fellow squarely in the eye, and so the fellow
wasted no time in conventional protests, but read him the deed.
They would have to renew the insurance every year; they would have to
pay the taxes, about ten dollars a year; they would have to pay the
water tax, about six dollars a year--(Jurgis silently resolved to
shut off the hydrant). This, besides the interest and the monthly
installments, would be all--unless by chance the city should happen
to decide to put in a sewer or to lay a sidewalk. Yes, said the agent,
they would have to have these, whether they wanted them or not, if the
city said so. The sewer would cost them about twenty-two dollars,
and the sidewalk fifteen if it were wood, twenty-five if it were cement.
So Jurgis went home again; it was a relief to know the worst, at any rate,
so that he could no more be surprised by fresh demands. He saw now
how they had been plundered; but they were in for it, there was no
turning back. They could only go on and make the fight and win--
for defeat was a thing that could not even be thought of.
When the springtime came, they were delivered from the dreadful cold,
and that was a great deal; but in addition they had counted on the
money they would not have to pay for coal--and it was just at this
time that Marija's board began to fail. Then, too, the warm weather
brought trials of its own; each season had its trials, as they found.
In the spring there were cold rains, that turned the streets into
canals and bogs; the mud would be so deep that wagons would sink
up to the hubs, so that half a dozen horses could not move them.
Then, of course, it was impossible for any one to get to work with
dry feet; and this was bad for men that were poorly clad and shod,
and still worse for women and children. Later came midsummer, with the
stifling heat, when the dingy killing beds of Durham's became a very
purgatory; one time, in a single day, three men fell dead from sunstroke.
All day long the rivers of hot blood poured forth, until, with the sun
beating down, and the air motionless, the stench was enough to knock
a man over; all the old smells of a generation would be drawn out by
this heat--for there was never any washing of the walls and rafters
and pillars, and they were caked with the filth of a lifetime.
The men who worked on the killing beds would come to reek with foulness,
so that you could smell one of them fifty feet away; there was simply
no such thing as keeping decent, the most careful man gave it up in
the end, and wallowed in uncleanness. There was not even a place
where a man could wash his hands, and the men ate as much raw blood as
food at dinnertime. When they were at work they could not even wipe off
their faces--they were as helpless as newly born babes in that respect;
and it may seem like a small matter, but when the sweat began to run
down their necks and tickle them, or a fly to bother them, it was a
torture like being burned alive. Whether it was the slaughterhouses
or the dumps that were responsible, one could not say, but with the
hot weather there descended upon Packingtown a veritable Egyptian plague
of flies; there could be no describing this--the houses would be black
with them. There was no escaping; you might provide all your doors
and windows with screens, but their buzzing outside would be like
the swarming of bees, and whenever you opened the door they would
rush in as if a storm of wind were driving them.
Perhaps the summertime suggests to you thoughts of the country,
visions of green fields and mountains and sparkling lakes. It had
no such suggestion for the people in the yards. The great packing
machine ground on remorselessly, without thinking of green fields;
and the men and women and children who were part of it never saw
any green thing, not even a flower. Four or five miles to the east
of them lay the blue waters of Lake Michigan; but for all the good
it did them it might have been as far away as the Pacific Ocean.
They had only Sundays, and then they were too tired to walk.
They were tied to the great packing machine, and tied to it for life.
The managers and superintendents and clerks of Packingtown were all
recruited from another class, and never from the workers; they scorned
the workers, the very meanest of them. A poor devil of a bookkeeper
who had been working in Durham's for twenty years at a salary of
six dollars a week, and might work there for twenty more and do
no better, would yet consider himself a gentleman, as far removed
as the poles from the most skilled worker on the killing beds;
he would dress differently, and live in another part of the town,
and come to work at a different hour of the day, and in every way
make sure that he never rubbed elbows with a laboring man. Perhaps
this was due to the repulsiveness of the work; at any rate, the people
who worked with their hands were a class apart, and were made to feel it.
In the late spring the canning factory started up again, and so
once more Marija was heard to sing, and the love-music of Tamoszius
took on a less melancholy tone. It was not for long, however;
for a month or two later a dreadful calamity fell upon Marija.
Just one year and three days after she had begun work as a can-painter,
she lost her job.
It was a long story. Marija insisted that it was because of her
activity in the union. The packers, of course, had spies in all
the unions, and in addition they made a practice of buying up
a certain number of the union officials, as many as they thought
they needed. So every week they received reports as to what was
going on, and often they knew things before the members of the
union knew them. Any one who was considered to be dangerous by them
would find that he was not a favorite with his boss; and Marija had
been a great hand for going after the foreign people and preaching
to them. However that might be, the known facts were that a few
weeks before the factory closed, Marija had been cheated out of her
pay for three hundred cans. The girls worked at a long table,
and behind them walked a woman with pencil and notebook, keeping count
of the number they finished. This woman was, of course, only human,
and sometimes made mistakes; when this happened, there was no
redress--if on Saturday you got less money than you had earned,
you had to make the best of it. But Marija did not understand this,
and made a disturbance. Marija's disturbances did not mean anything,
and while she had known only Lithuanian and Polish, they had done no harm,
for people only laughed at her and made her cry. But now Marija was
able to call names in English, and so she got the woman who made the
mistake to disliking her. Probably, as Marija claimed, she made
mistakes on purpose after that; at any rate, she made them, and the
third time it happened Marija went on the warpath and took the matter
first to the forelady, and when she got no satisfaction there, to the
superintendent. This was unheard-of presumption, but the superintendent
said he would see about it, which Marija took to mean that she was
going to get her money; after waiting three days, she went to see
the superintendent again. This time the man frowned, and said that he
had not had time to attend to it; and when Marija, against the advice
and warning of every one, tried it once more, he ordered her back to
her work in a passion. Just how things happened after that Marija was
not sure, but that afternoon the forelady told her that her services
would not be any longer required. Poor Marija could not have been
more dumfounded had the woman knocked her over the head; at first she
could not believe what she heard, and then she grew furious and swore
that she would come anyway, that her place belonged to her. In the end
she sat down in the middle of the floor and wept and wailed.
It was a cruel lesson; but then Marija was headstrong--she should
have listened to those who had had experience. The next time she
would know her place, as the forelady expressed it; and so Marija
went out, and the family faced the problem of an existence again.
It was especially hard this time, for Ona was to be confined before long,
and Jurgis was trying hard to save up money for this. He had heard
dreadful stories of the midwives, who grow as thick as fleas in
Packingtown; and he had made up his mind that Ona must have a
man-doctor. Jurgis could be very obstinate when he wanted to,
and he was in this case, much to the dismay of the women, who felt
that a man-doctor was an impropriety, and that the matter really
belonged to them. The cheapest doctor they could find would charge
them fifteen dollars, and perhaps more when the bill came in;
and here was Jurgis, declaring that he would pay it, even if he had
to stop eating in the meantime!
Marija had only about twenty-five dollars left. Day after day she
wandered about the yards begging a job, but this time without hope
of finding it. Marija could do the work of an able-bodied man,
when she was cheerful, but discouragement wore her out easily,
and she would come home at night a pitiable object. She learned
her lesson this time, poor creature; she learned it ten times over.
All the family learned it along with her--that when you have once
got a job in Packingtown, you hang on to it, come what will.
Four weeks Marija hunted, and half of a fifth week. Of course she
stopped paying her dues to the union. She lost all interest in the
union, and cursed herself for a fool that she had ever been dragged
into one. She had about made up her mind that she was a lost soul,
when somebody told her of an opening, and she went and got a place
as a "beef-trimmer." She got this because the boss saw that she
had the muscles of a man, and so he discharged a man and put Marija
to do his work, paying her a little more than half what he had been
When she first came to Packingtown, Marija would have scorned such
work as this. She was in another canning factory, and her work
was to trim the meat of those diseased cattle that Jurgis had been
told about not long before. She was shut up in one of the rooms
where the people seldom saw the daylight; beneath her were the
chilling rooms, where the meat was frozen, and above her were
the cooking rooms; and so she stood on an ice-cold floor, while her
head was often so hot that she could scarcely breathe. Trimming beef
off the bones by the hundred-weight, while standing up from early
morning till late at night, with heavy boots on and the floor
always damp and full of puddles, liable to be thrown out of work
indefinitely because of a slackening in the trade, liable again
to be kept overtime in rush seasons, and be worked till she trembled
in every nerve and lost her grip on her slimy knife, and gave herself
a poisoned wound--that was the new life that unfolded itself before Marija.
But because Marija was a human horse she merely laughed and went
at it; it would enable her to pay her board again, and keep the
family going. And as for Tamoszius--well, they had waited a long time,
and they could wait a little longer. They could not possibly get
along upon his wages alone, and the family could not live without hers.
He could come and visit her, and sit in the kitchen and hold her hand,
and he must manage to be content with that. But day by day the
music of Tamoszius' violin became more passionate and heartbreaking;
and Marija would sit with her hands clasped and her cheeks wet and
all her body atremble, hearing in the wailing melodies the voices
of the unborn generations which cried out in her for life.
Marija's lesson came just in time to save Ona from a similar fate.
Ona, too, was dissatisfied with her place, and had far more reason
than Marija. She did not tell half of her story at home, because she
saw it was a torment to Jurgis, and she was afraid of what he might do.
For a long time Ona had seen that Miss Henderson, the forelady in
her department, did not like her. At first she thought it was the
old-time mistake she had made in asking for a holiday to get married.
Then she concluded it must be because she did not give the forelady
a present occasionally--she was the kind that took presents from
the girls, Ona learned, and made all sorts of discriminations in favor
of those who gave them. In the end, however, Ona discovered that
it was even worse than that. Miss Henderson was a newcomer, and it was
some time before rumor made her out; but finally it transpired that
she was a kept woman, the former mistress of the superintendent of
a department in the same building. He had put her there to keep
her quiet, it seemed--and that not altogether with success, for once
or twice they had been heard quarreling. She had the temper of a hyena,
and soon the place she ran was a witch's caldron. There were some
of the girls who were of her own sort, who were willing to toady
to her and flatter her; and these would carry tales about the rest,
and so the furies were unchained in the place. Worse than this,
the woman lived in a bawdyhouse downtown, with a coarse, red-faced
Irishman named Connor, who was the boss of the loading-gang outside,
and would make free with the girls as they went to and from their work.
In the slack seasons some of them would go with Miss Henderson to
this house downtown--in fact, it would not be too much to say that
she managed her department at Brown's in conjunction with it.
Sometimes women from the house would be given places alongside of
decent girls, and after other decent girls had been turned off to
make room for them. When you worked in this woman's department
the house downtown was never out of your thoughts all day--there were
always whiffs of it to be caught, like the odor of the Packingtown
rendering plants at night, when the wind shifted suddenly. There would
be stories about it going the rounds; the girls opposite you would be
telling them and winking at you. In such a place Ona would not have
stayed a day, but for starvation; and, as it was, she was never sure
that she could stay the next day. She understood now that the real
reason that Miss Henderson hated her was that she was a decent
married girl; and she knew that the talebearers and the toadies
hated her for the same reason, and were doing their best to make her
But there was no place a girl could go in Packingtown, if she was
particular about things of this sort; there was no place in it
where a prostitute could not get along better than a decent girl.
Here was a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always
on the verge of starvation, and dependent for its opportunities of
life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as
the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances immorality
was exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it was under the
system of chattel slavery. Things that were quite unspeakable
went on there in the packing houses all the time, and were taken
for granted by everybody; only they did not show, as in the old
slavery times, because there was no difference in color between
master and slave.
One morning Ona stayed home, and Jurgis had the man-doctor,
according to his whim, and she was safely delivered of a fine baby.
It was an enormous big boy, and Ona was such a tiny creature herself,
that it seemed quite incredible. Jurgis would stand and gaze at the
stranger by the hour, unable to believe that it had really happened.
The coming of this boy was a decisive event with Jurgis. It made
him irrevocably a family man; it killed the last lingering impulse
that he might have had to go out in the evenings and sit and talk
with the men in the saloons. There was nothing he cared for now
so much as to sit and look at the baby. This was very curious,
for Jurgis had never been interested in babies before. But then,
this was a very unusual sort of a baby. He had the brightest
little black eyes, and little black ringlets all over his head;
he was the living image of his father, everybody said--and Jurgis
found this a fascinating circumstance. It was sufficiently perplexing
that this tiny mite of life should have come into the world at all
in the manner that it had; that it should have come with a comical
imitation of its father's nose was simply uncanny.
Perhaps, Jurgis thought, this was intended to signify that it was
his baby; that it was his and Ona's, to care for all its life.
Jurgis had never possessed anything nearly so interesting--a baby was,
when you came to think about it, assuredly a marvelous possession.
It would grow up to be a man, a human soul, with a personality all
its own, a will of its own! Such thoughts would keep haunting Jurgis,
filling him with all sorts of strange and almost painful excitements.
He was wonderfully proud of little Antanas; he was curious about all
the details of him--the washing and the dressing and the eating and
the sleeping of him, and asked all sorts of absurd questions. It took
him quite a while to get over his alarm at the incredible shortness
of the little creature's legs.
Jurgis had, alas, very little time to see his baby; he never felt
the chains about him more than just then. When he came home at night,
the baby would be asleep, and it would be the merest chance if he awoke
before Jurgis had to go to sleep himself. Then in the morning there
was no time to look at him, so really the only chance the father
had was on Sundays. This was more cruel yet for Ona, who ought
to have stayed home and nursed him, the doctor said, for her own
health as well as the baby's; but Ona had to go to work, and leave him
for Teta Elzbieta to feed upon the pale blue poison that was called
milk at the corner grocery. Ona's confinement lost her only a
week's wages--she would go to the factory the second Monday, and the
best that Jurgis could persuade her was to ride in the car, and let
him run along behind and help her to Brown's when she alighted.
After that it would be all right, said Ona, it was no strain sitting
still sewing hams all day; and if she waited longer she might find
that her dreadful forelady had put some one else in her place.
That would be a greater calamity than ever now, Ona continued,
on account of the baby. They would all have to work harder now
on his account. It was such a responsibility--they must not have
the baby grow up to suffer as they had. And this indeed had been
the first thing that Jurgis had thought of himself--he had clenched
his hands and braced himself anew for the struggle, for the sake of
that tiny mite of human possibility.
And so Ona went back to Brown's and saved her place and a week's wages;
and so she gave herself some one of the thousand ailments that women
group under the title of "womb trouble," and was never again a well
person as long as she lived. It is difficult to convey in words all
that this meant to Ona; it seemed such a slight offense, and the
punishment was so out of all proportion, that neither she nor any one
else ever connected the two. "Womb trouble" to Ona did not mean
a specialist's diagnosis, and a course of treatment, and perhaps
an operation or two; it meant simply headaches and pains in the back,
and depression and heartsickness, and neuralgia when she had to go to
work in the rain. The great majority of the women who worked in
Packingtown suffered in the same way, and from the same cause,
so it was not deemed a thing to see the doctor about; instead Ona
would try patent medicines, one after another, as her friends told
her about them. As these all contained alcohol, or some other
stimulant, she found that they all did her good while she took them;
and so she was always chasing the phantom of good health, and losing
it because she was too poor to continue.
The Jungle Chapter 11