What happens in chapters 1 and 2 of Triangle by David Von Drehle?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening chapters of the book are called "The Spirit of the Age" and "Triangle." In short, both chapters are meant to present the corruption at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory before the fire begins.

The first chapter is called "Spirit of the Age" because of the horrible corruption it highlights. The very first words are that "burglary was the usual occupation of ... Charles Rose" who was hired to beat up a female strike leader named Clara Lemlich.

[Clara represents] the drive for women’s rights (and other civil rights), the rise of unions, and the use of activist government to address social problems.

The chapter focuses on the character of Clara, her family, and her job in the clothing industry as a low-wage earner turned protester. The brutal physical attack on Clara ordered by Charles sets the scene. The environment that follows is one the pits the employers against the workers.

In the second chapter, the character of Kline says he is "sick of the slave driving" at the Triangle. Kline wants more money and improved conditions. Any worker who sides with Kine is ordered to leave, but no one moves. During the course of chapter 2, the original standoff by Kline threatens to turn into a full-blown strike. "Progressive women" (like Clara from the first chapter) are being hauled off to jail by Tammany cops, and political corruption is allowing this to happen. Issac Harris and Marcus Blanck, the owners (the "Shirtwaist Kings"), begin the press releases to halt the coming strike from the "shirtwaist union." By the end of chapter 2, a confrontation "becomes inevitable." Blanck and Harris demand to form an "EMPLOYERS MUTUAL PROTECTION ORGANIZATION" (purposely written in all capital letters) in order to counteract the forming union.

These chapters are important because the eventual flames at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire would trap and then kill some of the strikers working the hardest to change labor laws and horrible conditions for workers. Why would the fire kill so many? All but one of the fire exits are locked to prevent both theft and unauthorized breaks by workers.

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