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- We're introduced to Jim Nolan, a restless young man, as he leaves his boarding house for the last time and heads to the office of Harry Nilson, an organizer for a labor union.
- Jim wants to work for Harry's organization, but his application has not yet been approved. Harry questions him about his family ties, especially about his father's questionable activities.
- Jim's dad spent a lot of time fighting and in prison.
- We learn that Jim's mother has recently died—basically, of despair—while Jim was in prison serving a 30-day sentence for "vagrancy."
- Before that, Jim had been employed in a department store. It seems that his only crime was witnessing a protest in the city and getting caught by the riot squad.
- Jim then lost his job as a result and now finds himself kind of dead inside, with nothing to do.
- Jim tells Nilson that he wants to join the Party because he'd spoken to members while in jail, and they gave him hope. Jim wants to do something that will make him feel alive again.
- Jim tells Nilson that although he didn't graduate from high school, he's done a good job educating himself. He has read major works concerning social-political systems, so he's primed.
- Nilson makes it clear to Jim that the work he would do for the Party will be both hard and dangerous. He asks Jim if he wants to use a different name, so that his family won't suffer.
- But Jim has very little family, and he tells Nilson that he has nothing to lose. Nilson observes that Jim could lose the hatred that's been building up inside him, and that would be productive.
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