Marija is fond of a song, a song of lovers’ parting; she wishes to hear it, and, as the musicians do not know it, she has risen, and is proceeding to teach them.
At the wedding celebration of Jurgis and Ona, Marija encourages the musicians to play a song she likes. Unlike Ona, Marija is assertive and doesn’t mind being the center of attention. When they first arrive in America, Marija exudes a hopeful and fun-loving spirit, which will eventually be crushed by the suffering she endures.
Marija was an orphan, and had worked since childhood for a rich farmer of Vilna, who beat her regularly. It was only at the age of twenty that it had occurred to Marija to try her strength, when she had risen up and nearly murdered the man, and then come away.
The narrator explains how the family decided to go to America, and how Marija came to be part of the group. Marija’s physical strength is mentioned many times throughout the novel, and readers understand how she used her physical as well as her emotional strength to stand up to her abusive boss. In Lithuania, she refused to be beaten down, and at first she displays that same attitude in America.
“I had to live,” she said; “and I couldn’t see the children starve.”
When Jurgis discovers that Marija has been working in a brothel, he asks why she would do such a thing. Here, she answers him that being a prostitute seemed the best way to make money for the family. Although Marija’s spirit has been crushed, she still feels willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her family.
“No,” she answered, “I don’t blame you. We never have—any of us. You did your best—the job was too much for us.” She paused a moment, then added: “We were too ignorant—that was the trouble. We didn’t stand any chance. If I’d known what I know now we’d have won out.”
After Jurgis begins to apologize for running away from the family, Marija stops him by saying they never blamed him. She reflects on the fact that none of them knew what they were getting into when they left their home country. Everything, from the food to the jobs to the customs, seemed too foreign for them to comprehend. Marija seems to want to go back in time and start over with their new knowledge.
“No,” she answered, “I’ll never stop. What’s the use of talking about it—I’ll stay here till I die, I guess. It’s all I’m fit for.”
After Jurgis discovers socialism and gets a job that can support the family, he goes to Marija and tries to get her to leave the brothel. She doesn’t even consider his offer, saying that she’d be useless trying to do anything else. The capitalist economy broke her spirit to the point at which Marija would rather stay in a situation in which she knows she will make money rather than rely on others.