The story’s backdrop was one that was characterized by the expectation of great beginnings. The wedding symbolized the hopes and dreams of an extended family that originally came from Lithuania. The family members were disillusioned by the way of life in the old country. They heard great news about the booming economy in the United States. Buoyed by testimony of a Lithuanian immigrant’s success in the pursuit of the American Dream, the extended family decided to migrate to the U.S.A. From New Yor,k they made their way to Chicago because a Lithuanian community had taken root in the meatpacking area called Packingtown.
Jurgis Rudkus was one of the main characters of the story. He was the bridegroom. His wife’s name was Ona Lukoszaite. If one will retrace the steps of the main characters from the night of the wedding celebration to where they came from, one will find two couples that were in love but made a decision that they could probably have a better life living in America. They were influenced in no small part by Ona’s step-uncle named Jonas. It seemed a great idea, and so the rest of Ona’s family decided to tag along. Aside from Jonas, Marija Berczynskas, Ona’s cousin also wanted to migrate. They were joined by Teta Lukoszaite, she was Ona’s stepmother. When Teta made a decision to embark on the same journey, she brought her children with her. All of her six children were Ona’s stepbrothers and stepsisters. They are listed from the eldest to the youngest: Stanislovas, Katrina, Vilimas, Nikolajus, Juozapas, and Kristoforas. Jurgis persuaded his father, Antanas Rudkus, to start afresh in a new country.
Although they discovered that life in the U.S. is not a bed of roses, Ona’s family together with the newly added members – the gentle giant Jurgis and his father Antanas – they were upbeat about their chances of success in a new country. They had reason to hope because Jurgis’ frame and physical prowess enabled him to get a job so easily, in a labor-intensive meat packing industry in the city of Chicago.
The family was jubilant when Marija was hired to paint tin cans that were used to package smoked beef. Jonas was also able to secure a cushy position in one of the meatpacking facilities in the said area. Finally, Antanas, Jurgis’ father was also fortunate enough to get a job in a meat pickling company.
The family was able to figure out that with four members assured of regular paychecks, they could finally move out from the tenement that they were residing since their arrival from New York. They pooled their funds and made a down payment for a modest four-bedroom house. It was supposed to be the start of their version of the American Dream. However, it was the beginning of a tragic story.
Shortly after moving into their new home, the extended family composed of twelve members was very disappointed to find out that they did not have security of ownership even if they already made a sizeable down payment to the house. As a result, the younger members of the family had to look for jobs to make ends meet. If they fail to make only one monthly payment to their new home, the landlord threatened them with eviction. Their financial burden was made worse after the discovery of hidden charges on top of the agreed upon amount that they have to pay every month.
Ona was only fifteen years old when she married Jurgis. However, their financial problems forced her to find work. In fact, a day after her wedding, she had to report back to work. Stanislovas, the oldest son of Teta was only thirteen years old when he started working.
There were six members of the family who were working at the same time. It was supposed to be enough to survive in Industrialized jungle of Chicago, but when the winter months came, the family discovered how hard it was to be in that city during the coldest months of the year. The family was beset with so many problems beginning with the death of Jurgis’ father due to health issues. There was not enough money for the birth of Jurgis’ son. At the same time, the birth of a baby boy took a toll on Ona’s health.
They were able to get some respite during the summer months because the demand for jobs started to pick up. However, Jurgis’ the most important breadwinner in the family was injured in the factory. He had no salary for two months because worker’s benefits were nonexistent during that time.
During this time of great hardships, Jonas decided to abandon them. As a consequence, two of Teta’s sons were sent out to look for jobs. Teta was also compelled to look for a source of income. After some time Jurgis began to notice something was wrong with his wife. He sometimes finds her crying, but she will not reveal her problems to her husband. Jurgis became suspicious. He later found out that her boss, a man named Phil Connor, raped his wife. In a blinding rage, Jurgis attacked him and he was imprisoned.
After Jurgis was released from prison he discovered that the family was evicted from the four-bedroom house. The family went back to the tenement where they stayed before. During this time Ona gave birth to her second baby. However, she was not strong enough. She died together with her premature child.
After the death of his wife and youngest child, Jurgis started drinking. Teta persuaded him to sober up for the sake of his eldest son. Jurgis agree and he started on a new job. Nevertheless, the good times did not last long because the factory that employed Jurgis was forced to declare bankruptcy due to the low demand for the farm tools that they were making. At this point, the family was able to survive through the help of the younger children who managed to sell newspapers. Teta was also able to secure a job working as a cleaning lady.
One day after finishing his shift, Jurgis went home only to be greeted by unspeakable grief. Since almost everyone was forced to look for jobs, no one paid careful attention to Jurgis’ son who was at that time one a half-year-old. They found him dead from drowning. Jurgis left Chicago and roamed the countryside. He was able to survive on odd jobs but his cash reserves were drained due to his alcoholism and by spending his hard-earned income on prostitutes.
It did not take long before Jurgis decided to become a criminal. He partnered with an ex-convict that he met in prison, a man named Jack Duane. They learned how to become professional robbers and professional election-rigging operators. They were under the protection of local mob boss named Mike Scully.
Jurgis’ started to create wealth through his illicit business transactions. However, he was bankrupt once again because he met his old nemesis, Phil Connor. Jurgis physically assaulted Connor. The damage was serious enough that Jurgis had to spend a long time in prison. He was forced to use all the money that he kept in the bank and utilized to post bail. In his most desperate moment, Jurgis became a beggar on the streets of Chicago.
He was adrift without a future and hope. One day he joined a free meeting that was sponsored by Socialists. The speaker said something that aroused the attention of Jurgis. The speaker told the audience that rich businessmen oppressed the workers in the city. The speaker said that these wealthy capitalists maintained the status quo by controlling the political process. The speaker suggested that the workers must learn how to organize in order to elect candidates that will fight for their rights.
Jurgis found new hope in the socialist movement. However, his personal life was in shambles. On the other hand, his association with the active members of the socialist party in Chicago provided him the opportunity to meet people who were sympathetic to downtrodden workers like him. As a result, he was offered a job. He was ecstatic after receiving his salary and he thought to himself that he had a fighting chance to rescue his family from the pit of despair. He went home to encourage what was left of his extended family. He was brokenhearted to find out that Marija was a full-time prostitute. She could not leave her past life behind because she was also addicted to drugs. In her despair she wanted to stay in the slums to earn money as a prostitute. Jurgis tried to convince her that there is a better life for her. Marija did not believe Jurgis’ words of encouragement.
Jurgis desperately wanted to hold on to his family because they reminded him of his happy life in the past. When he feels downcast he thinks of the socialist party. He remembers an important event when he was a guest in a rich man’s house. In that speech event, he had the opportunity to listen to a brilliant orator. His words moved Jurgis so that he believed that one day, the workers will rule Chicago.