In the meantime there was going on in another corner of the room an anxious conference between Teta Elzbieta and Dede Antanas, and a few of the more intimate friends of the family. A trouble was come upon them. The veselija is a compact, a compact not expressed, but therefore only the more binding upon all. Every one’s share was different—and yet every one knew perfectly well what his share was, and strove to give a little more. Now, however, since they had come to the new country, all this was changing; it seemed as if there must be some subtle poison in the air that one breathed here—it was affecting all the young men at once. They would come in crowds and fill themselves with a fine dinner, and then sneak off.
The narrator tells why Teta Elzbieta, the person who insisted that Jurgis and Ona have a veselija, feels confused when guests do not give money to the couple, as customary in Lithuania. The concept of guests not giving a gift seems so foreign to her that she wonders if a poison affects the guests. This instance represents one of many when Teta Elzbieta realizes how unprepared she was for life in a new country.
Teta Elzbieta was so embarrassed that the perspiration came out upon her forehead in beads; for was not this reading as much as to say plainly to the gentleman’s face that they doubted his honesty?
As Szedvilas reads the contract for purchasing the house carefully, as Jurgis instructed him to do, Teta Elzbieta feels embarrassed that he is even reading the contract. Teta Elzbieta, a traditional woman at heart, feels wary of insulting anyone in their new country. Although mostly capable and strong-willed, her ignorance of American culture leads the family to some pitfalls, such as purchasing the house.
Elzbieta had some traditions behind her; she had been a person of importance in her girlhood—had lived on a big estate and had servants, and might have married well and been a lady, but for the fact that there had been nine daughters and no sons in the family. Even so, however, she knew what was decent, and clung to her traditions with desperation.
When the family arrived in America, Ona and Jurgis felt eager to get married immediately, without a formal celebration. But Teta Elzbieta insisted on them having a veselija, as it is tradition in their home country. As the narrator explains here, Teta Elzbieta grew up wealthy, and as such, holds on to the traditions of her homeland. However, her desire to maintain these traditions complicates matters for the family, as her insistence on throwing the wedding celebration leads to more debt.
Poor Elzbieta was ashamed of herself for having told so woeful a tale, and the other had to beg and plead with her to get her to go on.
When the settlement worker comes to visit the family, Elzbieta tells her of their suffering since coming to America. Even though Elzbieta herself wears a “dirty old wrapper” and they are in the flea-infested attic where Ona died, she feels mostly ashamed of having to tell their stories. Despite all their hardships, Elzbieta is still an extremely proud woman who does not want to be pitied for their struggles.
All that interested her in regard to this new frenzy which had seized hold of her son-in-law was whether or not it had a tendency to make him sober and industrious; and when she found he intended to look for work and to contribute his share to the family fund, she gave him full rein to convince her of anything. A wonderfully wise little woman was Elzbieta; she could think as quickly as a hunted rabbit, and in half an hour she had chosen her life-attitude to the Socialist movement.
When Jurgis visits Teta Elzbieta after he learns about socialism, he excitedly tells her all he has learned, and she thinks he’s gone crazy as his ideas seem to have come out of nowhere. However, as shown by the narrator here, Elzbieta proves herself to be very practical, and she cares only that Jurgis’s newfound passion for socialism will keep him productive.