She stood in the doorway, shepherded by Cousin Marija, breathless from pushing through the crowd, and in her happiness painful to look upon. There was a light of wonder in her eyes and her lids trembled, and her otherwise wan little face was flushed.
Here, the narrator describes Ona at her and Jurgis’s wedding celebration. Like Jurgis, the novel begins with Ona optimistic and naïve about the realities of life in America. As a young and innocent woman, both Jurgis and her cousin Marija feel the need to protect her. This description of her serves as a sharp contrast to her transformation after suffering the consequences of a capitalist society.
Jurgis lost his temper very little, however, all things considered. It was because of Ona; the least glance at her was always enough to make him control himself. She was so sensitive—she was not fitted for such a life as this[.]
After Jurgis and the family begin to struggle financially, Jurgis must stop himself from taking out his anger on others in the household. Here, the narrator explains how he uses Ona as his motivation to keep his temper in check, as he feels she is too good for their life and for him. Ona embodies all the stereotypes of traditional femininity, and Jurgis sees her as too delicate to upset.
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.
When Ona becomes dissatisfied with her job, she does not tell Jurgis the reason until she absolutely has to. Her boss has raped her and forces her to work in a brothel, and she fears that if Jurgis finds out he will murder her boss. Even though Ona is suffering likely more than any other family member, she willingly gives up her dignity to keep the family safe and together.
Ona, too, was falling into a habit of silence—Ona, who had once gone about singing like a bird. She was sick and miserable, and often she would barely have strength enough to drag herself home.
The narrator explains that, as the family becomes more and more miserable with their situation, even Ona, who at the start of the novel was innocent and happy, loses all optimism. She has been sick and weak since giving birth, and none of her family members know yet of her terrible work situation. The change in Ona’s character shows that capitalism can crush even the brightest of spirits.
Then suddenly her eyes opened—one instant, she looked at him—there was a flash of recognition between them, he saw her afar off, as through a dim vista, standing forlorn.
The narrator explains how, while passing away, Ona opens her eyes briefly to look at Jurgis. Although they grew apart and never truly got a chance to enjoy their marriage, they recognize one last time the happiness they might have had in different circumstances. However, Jurgis sees Ona as “standing forlorn,” revealing that his only memories of her will be of their unhappy times.