This section contains 1,763 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)
Jurgis Rudkus is a young man in his twenties when the novel begins. Jurgis lived in the countryside of Lithuania when he fell in love with a young woman he saw at a fair. Jurgis jumps at the chance to marry this young girl, Ona, when her father dies and her stepmother agrees to the arrangement. Jurgis and his father travel to America with Ona’s family where they hope to find their fortune in Chicago.
Jurgis is a strong man who believes that as long as he works hard, he can provide for his family in almost any circumstance. Whenever something bad happens to the family, Jurgis announces that he will just work harder to fix it. However, Jurgis soon learns that working hard is not always enough to help his family survive in the packing houses of Chicago.
Jurgis loses his job once because of an injury to his ankle. This leaves the family in a jam and causes Jurgis to have to take a job in the despised fertilizer factory. Despite the unpleasant smells and work in the fertilizer factory, Jurgis works as hard as he can to support his family. This proves to be impossible when Jurgis discovers that his wife has been seduced and abused by one of her bosses. Jurgis goes to defend his wife’s honor and ends up in jail, leaving the family to lose their home and starve.
Jurgis loses it all, his wife and his son. Then, Jurgis continues to lose everything again and again until he finally finds friendship in the Socialist movement and a job that he can do without placing his life at risk.
Ona is a teenager the first time Jurgis sees her and falls in love with her innocence and beauty. Jurgis changes his entire life to be with Ona, deciding to move to America because Ona’s brother believes it is the best way to save the family from the financial struggles his deceased father left them in. Ona is practically a child still, and she goes along with all this without complaint or input.
When the family arrives in America, Ona is left at home to help her stepmother care for her five children. Jurgis does not want Ona to have to work. However, after they buy a house and discover a whole host of hidden fees, Ona is forced to go to work. Everyone is pleased when Ona finds an easy job where she sews hams into their bags each day. Ona, however, is unhappy in the work because her immediate supervisor and most of her coworkers are women who have or still work as prostitutes, and they feel intimidated by a good girl like Ona.
After Jurgis and Ona have been married for a little more than a year, Ona is pregnant with their second child. During this time, Ona is seduced and abused by a boss at the packinghouse where she works. Ona falls for this man’s threats, afraid that if she does not do as he says that her entire family will be blacklisted and unable to make a living. When Jurgis learns about this, he attacks the boss and leaves the family alone to fend for themselves when he goes to jail. Ona becomes depressed and refuses to eat or get out of bed, causing her to go into premature labor. Ona dies after delivering a stillborn child.
Marija is Ona’s cousin. Marija is a tough woman who is not afraid to tell people what she thinks. Marija comes to the stockyards of Chicago thinking that she can conquer the place and the people on her own. It takes Marija time to find a job, but finally finds one painting cans. However, Marija loses this job when she fights her supervisors when they short her paycheck several cans she painted. Marija learns that she should not have spoken up, but she felt so cheated that she cannot help it.
Marija goes on to get a job as a meat trimmer, cutting the meat from the bones of the cows in the packinghouses. However, this is a dangerous job that often leads to deep cuts that can cause death or dismemberment. Marija suffers several cuts, one that is bad enough to cause her to be out of work for weeks. This comes at a time when Jurgis is in jail and the other adults in the family have also lost their jobs, leaving the family starving and homeless.
After Jurgis abandons the family due to the death of both his wife and son, Marija finds herself responsible for five people on her own. After the death of one of Elzbieta’s children, the family moves into the city and Marija gets a job as a prostitute. Marija makes a good amount of money, but a lot of it goes to pay expenses in the house. However, Marija makes enough to care for Elzbieta and her remaining three children. When Jurgis returns and tries to get Marija to leave her job, Marija refuses, convinced she will never be able to keep a respectable job again.
Elzbeita is Ona’s stepmother. Elzbeita was born to a wealthy family in Lithuania, but was one of many daughters. For this reason, Elzbeita married Ona’s father rather than an aristocrat. Ona’s father kept Elzbeita in a respectable way, but when he died, she found herself in deep debt. For this reason, Elzbeita agrees to her stepson’s idea of moving to America where they believe they can make a fortune.
Elzbeita remains unemployed through the first year of her life in America because the rest of the adults in the family want her to be able to remain home with her five children. When Ona has her first child, Elzbeita becomes his primary caregiver. However, when Jurgis is injured and the family becomes desperate for money, Elzbeita gets a job. This job has her working with a machine that fills sausage casings with the cooked meat. Elzbeita dislikes this job and in time loses it when the sausage factory closes down for a lack of demand.
Elzbeita loses two children during her years in America. Elzbeita also sees her children forced to go to work at ages that are much too young, even in the time period in which the novel is set. However, she continues to survive, doing her best to keep her family alive.
Jonas is Ona’s brother. Jonas is the one who came up with the idea to move to America where they might find their fortunes. Jonas is one of the first to become disillusioned, however, as the family struggles first to find work and later to support one another. Not long after Jurgis injures his ankle, Jonas disappears. The family worries that he might have died in the packinghouse, but they cannot find anyone willing to admit this. For this reason, the family prefers to assume he only ran away as he had threatened to do many times before.
Antanas Rudkus is Jurgis’s father. Antanas is an elderly man who suffered from a bad cough before moving to the country in Lithuania. When the family comes to America, Antanas is determined to get a job in order to contribute to the household. However, Antanas is older than the maximum age the packers usually like to hire. For this reason, Antanas has a hard time finding work and eventually has to give a third of his pay to a boss who helped him get work. The work Antanas gets is in a wet, chemical filled room that causes his cough to come back and for him to get sores on his feet that do not heal. Antanas dies not long after the family comes to America.
Baby Antanas is Jurgis’s son with Ona. The baby has a hard childhood, suffering many illnesses when he is less than a year old. However, Antanas is an intelligent child who is speaking by the age of two and sharing the funny pages in the paper with his father. Unfortunately, Antanas dies not long after his mother. Antanas fell off the sidewalk in front of their boarding house and drowned in the deep puddles in the unpaved street caused by recent rain.
Stanislovas is Elzbieta’s eldest child. At the age of twelve, Stanislovas has a priest create a document attesting to the fact that Stanislovas is two years older than he is so that he can get a job. Stanislovas gets a job working the lard can filling machine at a packinghouse. Stanislovas neither loves nor hates his job, but during the winter he develops a deep fear of the cold when he sees a coworker lose his ears from the cold. For this reason, Jurgis must often beat the child to make him go to work. When Jurgis is in jail the first time, there is no one to make Stanislovas go to work and he loses his job. Not long after the family becomes homeless, Stanilovas gets a new job bringing beer to some men in the packing houses. One night he is locked in the warehouse where the men work and is eaten alive by rats.
Connor is a boss at the packing house where Ona works. Connor has a share in a brothel in Chicago where he lives with his girlfriend who is also Ona’s immediate supervisor. Connor takes a fancy to Ona and tells her that if she does not have an intimate relationship with him he will make sure she, her husband, and her entire family are blacklisted at the packinghouses. Ona gives in to Connor. When Jurgis learns about this, he beats up Connor and goes to jail for thirty days for it. More than a year later, during strikes in Packingtown, Jurgis will run into Connor and attack him again.
Mike Scully is a politician in Packingtown. Scully owns many businesses in Packingtown, and this gives him a certain amount of power over the working man and the packers. Scully also runs an organization in Packingtown. It is well known that Scully is a good friend to have. Jurgis works for Scully when he becomes involved in a political scam in Packingtown, unaware that Scully is behind many of the scams and rules that caused his family to become homeless and his wife to die.
This section contains 1,763 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)