Jurgis wants to marry Ona, but he is poor and after her father dies, Ona's family also ends up poor. Jurgis hears that life is good in America, for Ona's brother Jonas tells him that a friend has gotten rich in the States. Further, Jurgis hears that in America, young men are not forced to serve in the army, that people don't have to pay bribes to corrupt officials, and that workers can earn three roubles a day, which is a fortune in Lithuania. He believes he can go to America and become a wealthy man. So he and Ona and other family members decide to save their money and leave. For Jurgis, this is a way to afford to marry, which he wants very much to do, and he dreams of a better life. Jurgis is willing to work hard for a better future.
Lithuania, as the novel depicts it, is a cruel and exploitative country, and it is easy to understand why these characters would want to leave. However, they also have a false idea of what living in America will be like and don't understand how hard, in reality, it will be to survive.