page 1 of 3
[T]here were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit.
Jurgis and his family know all of the dirty secrets of the meat-packing industry. The most spoiled of meats becomes sausage. All manner of dishonesty exists in the industry’s willingness to sell diseased, rotten, and adulterated meat to American households. The working members of the family fall into a silent stupor due to the grinding poverty and misery of their lives. Ona and Jurgis grow apart, and Jurgis begins to drink heavily. He delivers himself from full-blown alcoholism through force of will, but the desire to drink always torments him.
Antanas suffers various childhood illnesses, and the measles attack him with fury. His strong constitution allows him to reach his first birthday, but he is as malnourished as the rest of the Packingtown poor. Ona, pregnant again, develops a bad cough and suffers increasingly frequent bouts of hysterical crying.
Winter arrives again, and with it comes the grueling rush season. Fifteen- and sixteen-hour workdays are frequent. Twice, Ona does not return home at night. She explains that the snow drifts kept her away so she stayed with a friend. When Jurgis discovers that she is lying, he wrangles a confession out of her. Sobbing hysterically, Ona confesses that Phil Connor, a boss at her factory, continually harassed her and pleaded with her to become his mistress. She tells Jurgis that Connor eventually raped her in the factory after everyone had gone home and threatened to arrange the firings of every wage earner in her household. Moreover, he threatened to prevent them from obtaining work in Packingtown ever again. With these threats, he forced her into accompanying him to Miss Henderson’s brothel in the evenings for the past two months.
Jurgis, livid, storms to Ona’s workplace. Upon seeing the coarse-looking and liquor-reeking Connor, he leaps at him and sinks his fingers into Connor’s throat. He channels all of his outrage about the rape into such a thrashing frenzy that he doesn’t even notice the pandemonium in the factory. A half-dozen men finally tear Jurgis, blood and skin dripping from his teeth, from the unconscious Connor and take him to the police station.
[C]ould they find no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six helpless children to starve and freeze?
Jurgis is arrested and taken to jail, where old men and boys, hardened criminals and petty criminals, innocent men and guilty men share the same squalid quarters. A date is designated for Jurgis’s trial and his bond is set at three hundred dollars. Afterward, he is taken to the county jail and made to strip; he is then walked, naked, down a hallway past the inmates, who leer and make comments. He is put into a small cell with a filthy, bug-infested mattress. Upon hearing a clanging of bells that evening, Jurgis realizes that it is Christmas Eve. He recalls the previous Christmas, when he and Ona walked along the avenue with the children and gazed at the marvelous food and toys in the store windows. He begins to sob when he thinks of his family spending Christmas without him and with Ona ill. He laments his family’s plight and feels that the Christmas chimes are mocking him.
While Jurgis awaits his trial, he becomes friends with his cellmate, Jack Duane. Jack claims to be an educated man from the east. He says that his father committed suicide after failing in business. He adds that a big company later cheated him out of a lucrative invention. His misfortunes led Jack to become a safe breaker. Before Jurgis’s trial, Jack gives Jurgis his mistress’s address and encourages him to seek his help should the need arise.
Take a Study Break!