The Jungle eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 550 pages of information about The Jungle.

Chapter 9

One of the first consequences of the discovery of the union was that Jurgis became desirous of learning English.  He wanted to know what was going on at the meetings, and to be able to take part in them, and so he began to look about him, and to try to pick up words.  The children, who were at school, and learning fast, would teach him a few; and a friend loaned him a little book that had some in it, and Ona would read them to him.  Then Jurgis became sorry that he could not read himself; and later on in the winter, when some one told him that there was a night school that was free, he went and enrolled.  After that, every evening that he got home from the yards in time, he would go to the school; he would go even if he were in time for only half an hour.  They were teaching him both to read and to speak English—­and they would have taught him other things, if only he had had a little time.

Also the union made another great difference with him—­it made him begin to pay attention to the country.  It was the beginning of democracy with him.  It was a little state, the union, a miniature republic; its affairs were every man’s affairs, and every man had a real say about them.  In other words, in the union Jurgis learned to talk politics.  In the place where he had come from there had not been any politics—­in Russia one thought of the government as an affliction like the lightning and the hail.  “Duck, little brother, duck,” the wise old peasants would whisper; “everything passes away.”  And when Jurgis had first come to America he had supposed that it was the same.  He had heard people say that it was a free country—­but what did that mean?  He found that here, precisely as in Russia, there were rich men who owned everything; and if one could not find any work, was not the hunger he began to feel the same sort of hunger?

When Jurgis had been working about three weeks at Brown’s, there had come to him one noontime a man who was employed as a night watchman, and who asked him if he would not like to take out naturalization papers and become a citizen.  Jurgis did not know what that meant, but the man explained the advantages.  In the first place, it would not cost him anything, and it would get him half a day off, with his pay just the same; and then when election time came he would be able to vote—­and there was something in that.  Jurgis was naturally glad to accept, and so the night watchman said a few words to the boss, and he was excused for the rest of the day.  When, later on, he wanted a holiday to get married he could not get it; and as for a holiday with pay just the same—­what power had wrought that miracle heaven only knew!  However, he went with the man, who picked up several other newly landed immigrants, Poles, Lithuanians, and Slovaks, and took them all outside, where stood a great four-horse tallyho coach, with fifteen or twenty men already in it.  It

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The Jungle from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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