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Quotes

Quote #1

Ona was blue-eyed and fair, while Jurgis had great black eyes with beetling brows, and thick black hair that curled in waves about his ears – in short, they were one of those incongruous and impossible married couples with which Mother Nature so often wills to confound all prophets, before and after. (1.5)

Jurgis and Ona are like an exaggerated version of the stereotypical male-female couple: Jurgis is giant and strong and Ona is tiny and fragile. Their marriage also starts out with these clearly defined gender roles: Jurgis wants to keep Ona at home while he works at the packing plants. Of course, this winds up being economically impossible. Once Ona enters the workplace, she becomes vulnerable to abuses from monsters like Connor, and Jurgis feels less and less in control of his family life and place in the world. It's a little hard to get a read on this: is Sinclair creating a subtle critique of women in the workforce? Would it be the "natural" order of things for Ona to stay home and Jurgis to work? Does the conclusion of the novel offer any philosophical hints about the role of women in socialist paradise?

Quote #2

It was nearly a year and a half ago that Jurgis had met Ona, at a horse fair a hundred miles from home. Jurgis had never expected to get married – he had laughed at it as a foolish trap for a man to walk into; but here, without ever having spoken a word to her, with no more than the exchange of half a dozen smiles, he found himself, purple in the face with embarrassment and terror, asking her parents to sell her to him for his wife – and offering his father's two horses he had been sent to the fair to sell. But Ona's father proved as a rock – the girl was yet a child, and he was a rich man, and his daughter was not to be had in that way. So Jurgis went home with a heavy heart, and that spring and summer toiled and tried hard to forget. In the fall, after the harvest was over, he saw that it would not do, and tramped the full fortnight's journey that lay between him and Ona. (2.4)

Here is how marriage is arranged in the society that Jurgis comes from: he asks Ona's father if he can marry Ona before he even really speaks to the girl. It's not until Ona's father dies and leaves the family with tons of debt that Jurgis has a shot at Ona because their social statuses are so different. Is there any indication in the novel that marriages are arranged differently in the United States? Can we contrast Jurgis's courtship of Ona in Lithuania with any other (very slow) courtships once the family arrives in America?

Quote #3

All day and all night for nearly a whole week they wrestled with the problem [of whether or not to buy a house], and then in the end Jurgis took the responsibility. Brother Jonas had gotten his job, and was pushing a truck in Durham's; and the killing gang at Brown's continued to work early and late, so that Jurgis grew more confident every hour, more certain of his mastership. It was the kind of thing the man of the family had to decide and carry through, he told himself. Others might have failed at it, but he was not the failing kind—he would show them how to do it. He would work all day, and all night, too, if need be; he would never rest until the house was paid for and his people had a home. So he told them, and so in the end the decision was made. (4.14)

As "the man of the family," Jurgis decides to take full responsibility for the decision to buy the house. After all, "he would never rest until the house was paid for and his people had a home" – note that his family members are "his people," a particularly possessive way of thinking about them. In making the decision to buy the house, though, Jurgis gets everyone – Marija Berczynskas, Teta Elzbieta, Jonas (who doesn't stick around), Ona, everyone – into debt. His whole idea of the man as the master of a family unit is based on old world models; in this individualist American society, family doesn't seem to have the same coherence or importance as an idea. We think a little bit more about the place of family in Sinclair's vision of American culture in "Quotes: Society and Class."

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