Jurgis talked lightly about work, because he was young. They told him stories about the breaking down of men, there in the stockyards of Chicago, and of what had happened to them afterwards—stories to make your flesh creep, but Jurgis would only laugh. He had only been there four months, and he was young, and a giant besides. There was too much health in him. He could not even imagine how it would feel to be beaten.
Here, the narrator explains how Jurgis’s age and lack of experience at his new job affects his understanding of reality. Jurgis fully believes that if he works hard, he will achieve success. When his co-workers warn him about what can happen to the people who work in these factories, he does not take them seriously: He thinks that his strength and youth are enough to allow him to work hard. Though he does not come from a prosperous background, he has yet to experience true suffering.
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.
When Jurgis begins work in the factory, he generally enjoys his job and does not mind even the “speeding-up” that the bosses demand. When he shares his feelings with the other workers, he finds that most of them feel the exact opposite and, as the narrator explains here, he seems shocked. Even though he starts to notice the dismal working conditions, he remains optimistic and determined to succeed.
One of the consequences of all these things was that Jurgis was no longer perplexed when he heard men talk of fighting for their rights. He felt like fighting now himself; and when the Irish delegate of the butcher-helpers’ union came to him a second time, he received him in a far different spirit.
The narrator explains a change in Jurgis’s attitude toward the butcher-helpers’ union. When a union delegate first tries to recruit Jurgis, he feels confused as to what purpose the union serves, or why he’d need to fight for his rights. However, as Jurgis begins to experience unfair treatment from the factory bosses, he understands the necessity of having his rights protected. Though he no longer feels as optimistic as before, he still feels determined to make the best of his situation.
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.
Ona gives birth to her and Jurgis’s son after Jurgis begins to feel disillusioned with the promise of America. However, as explained by the narrator here, meeting his son gives Jurgis a purpose to move forward in life, just as marrying Ona inspired him to move to America in search of a better life. Jurgis feels motivated by his family, and he hits his low points when not with them.
He might grab that wad of bills and be out of sight in the darkness before the other could collect his wits. Should he do it? What better had he to hope for, if he waited longer? But Jurgis had never committed a crime in his life, and now he hesitated half a second too long.
When Jurgis meets Freddie Jones on the street, Freddie pulls out a wad of bills. In the darkness of the night, Jurgis considers stealing the money from the drunk and nearly incomprehensible Freddie. But Jurgis, never having committed a crime, hesitates and loses the chance. Even though life reduced Jurgis to beg in the streets, enough of his old character remains that he cannot steal from Freddie.
Since it was Jurgis’s first experience, these details naturally caused him some worriment; but the other laughed coolly—it was the way of the game, and there was no helping it. Before long Jurgis would think no more of it than they did in the yards of knocking out a bullock.
After Jurgis and Jack Duane attack and steal from an insurance agent, Jurgis sees in the newspaper that the man suffered a concussion and would lose three fingers from frostbite. As the narrator reveals here, Jurgis alone feels guilt for the crime. Yet, after he commits more and more crimes, Jurgis considers these feelings to just be part of the job. As a criminal, he becomes more successful than ever before, and he doesn’t think twice about harming others.
For four years, now, Jurgis had been wandering and blundering in the depths of a wilderness; and here, suddenly, a hand reached down and seized him, and lifted him out of it, and set him upon a mountain-top, from which he could survey it all—could see the paths from which he had wandered, the morasses into which he had stumbled, the hiding-places of the beasts of prey that had fallen upon him.
Here, the narrator explains how, during Jurgis’s conversation with Ostrinski about capitalism, Jurgis feels he can finally understand why everything that has happened to him has happened. He also perceives a path forward for preventing such treatment of others in the future. Jurgis’s experiences demonstrate all the dangers of capitalism. Here, Jurgis finally feels saved by discovering socialism.
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