by Upton Sinclair
Stanislovas is, hands down, the character with the worst death in this whole book. We'll get to that in a minute, but first, let's talk about his character development. Stanislovas is Teta Elzbieta's oldest child. When they first leave Lithuania and arrive in the United States, Jurgis wants Stanislovas to go to school to improve the family's social standing. This hope does not last very long, though: as soon as the family realizes that their rent payments also have to include loan interest, they immediately set Stanislovas to work.
Even in 1906, there are laws against child labor on the books. However, these laws are not really enforced. So Stanislovas gets a fake birth certificate saying he is sixteen, even though he is only thirteen, and no one protests. Stanislovas goes to work at one of the meatpacking factories. His job is to run the machine that sprays the lard into cans. This work is repetitive and mindless, and, as soon as Stanislovas settles into it, he loses all chance for a future. His mind is never challenged and he never thinks, so he doesn't have the opportunity to improve himself or his life.
Stanislovas gets a profound phobia of the cold, and for good reason. Because these factories are not insulated or heated during Chicago's awful winters, many industrial accidents happen during this season just because everybody is so cold. He sees a boy who helps run the lard machine get such bad frostbite that his ears snap right off.
Stanislovas becomes so afraid of frostbite that he cries and screams every winter morning that he has to go to work. As further proof of how bad American business has been for his character, Jurgis whips the boy each morning to make him go to the factories anyway. Jurgis has become so obsessed with money that he beats a little boy to make him go to work. Of course, Jurgis is also desperate to make ends meet. Even so, this is the first sign of the kind of cruelty that will cause Jurgis to become a thief and a criminal in the later chapters of the book. Stanislovas does wind up getting frostbite in one of Chicago's bad snowstorms and loses the use of three of his fingers. Eventually, thanks to further bad weather, Stanislovas loses his job at the lard packing plant and joins his little brothers selling newspapers in downtown Chicago.
After Jurgis's hobo time when Jurgis meets up with Marija Berczynskas again, Marija tells Jurgis the awful story of poor Stanislovas's death. At the age of fifteen, Stanislovas gets another factory job. He is paid to bring beer to the guys on duty. Stanislovas takes a little bit of beer from each glass, presumably to make the days go by more quickly. One day, he takes a little too much beer and falls asleep in a corner. The factory is locked up for the night while he is sleeping. Sometime during the night, Stanislovas is attacked by rats. When they open the factory the next morning, they find his body, mostly eaten. (Even typing out this summary makes us shudder, we have to admit.)
The news of Stanislovas's terrible death shakes Jurgis out of his self-pitying stupor. When he hears that Marija has become a prostitute, Teta Elzbieta a beggar, and Stanislovas rat food, Jurgis suddenly feels a great regret and longing for his family life. Perhaps this sympathy for poor Stanislovas is part of what contributes to Jurgis's socialist awakening in the two chapters after he hears the news. Stanislovas's fate also drives home the horror of child labor – because what was a kid like Stanislovas doing working in a factory in the first place? Again, we see that Upton Sinclair is trying to shock the reader into disgust at the horrible working conditions in Chicago's Packingtown.