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Quotes

Quote #4

Now, sitting in the trolley car, they realized that they were on their way to the home of [the strange, unfamiliar odor] – that they had traveled all the way from Lithuania to it. It was now no longer something far off and faint, that you caught in whiffs; you could literally taste it, as well as smell it – you could take hold of it, almost, and examine it at your leisure. They were divided in their opinions about it. It was an elemental odor, raw and crude; it was rich, almost rancid, sensual, and strong. There were some who drank it in as if it were an intoxicant; there were others who put their handkerchiefs to their faces. The new emigrants were still tasting it, lost in wonder, when suddenly the car came to a halt, and the door was flung open, and a voice shouted – "Stockyards!" (2.12)

Jurgis and his family are so totally ignorant of the place that they are moving to that they don't even have words to agree on what the stockyards smell like. The world of the stockyards is so new to them that they cannot imagine what it is they are approaching, even though they have hints (for example, smoke and a strong smell) of what kind of a place this will be along the way. We have to pause for a second to express our respect for the kind of courage it would take to immigrate literally to the unknown. It sucks that their huge risk doesn't pay off.

Quote #5

One of the first problems that Jurgis ran upon was that of the unions. He had had no experience with unions, and he had to have it explained to him that the men were banded together for the purpose of fighting for their rights. Jurgis asked them what they meant by their rights, a question in which he was quite sincere, for he had not any idea of any rights that he had, except the right to hunt for a job, and do as he was told when he got it. Generally, however, this harmless question would only make his fellow workingmen lose their tempers and call him a fool. (5.10)

For all the beating Sinclair gives to American idealism over the course of this book, it is still notable that it is not until Jurgis comes to the States that he even conceives of the idea that he should expect better from his employment. Yes, his work was never as bad back in Jurgis's old life as it is in the States, but there is still a new language of freedom and human rights that inspires the people around him to form unions and to try and make things better here. Also, Jurgis's complete lack of familiarity with the American system is a useful plot device for Sinclair to introduce us to his perception of it. We are supposed to be learning along with Jurgis.

Quote #6

They were not going to lose all caste, even if they had come to be unskilled laborers in Packingtown; and that Ona had even talked of omitting a veselija was enough to keep her stepmother [Teta Elzbieta] lying awake all night. It was in vain for them to say that they had so few friends; they were bound to have friends in time, and then the friends would talk about it. They must not give up what was right for a little money – if they did, the money would never do them any good, they could depend upon that. And Elzbieta would call upon Dede Antanas to support her; there was a fear in the souls of these two, lest this journey to a new country might somehow undermine the old home virtues of their children. (6.1)

Even though the family has come to the United States to start a new life, the "old home virtues" of Lithuania retain a tight hold on Teta Elzbieta's mind. Besides ritual observances (such as the veselija and poor Kristoforas's funeral), what other signs of Teta Elzbieta's "old home virtues" do we see? Does Elzbieta's judgment of right and wrong differ from her more Americanized children? How does Teta Elzbieta adapt to her new home in the States?

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