Chapter 13 Summary

Elzbieta’s youngest child, Kristoforas, dies shortly after eating a sausage. He was born with a congenital birth defect and has always been unwell and crippled. Subject to infection, he caught cold frequently, and his coughing and snuffling annoyed everyone. Only Elzbieta feels grief at his death; the others feel only a cold relief. There is no money for a funeral, and Jurgis says that the boy will have to be buried by the city in a pauper’s grave. This infuriates Elzbieta, who berates Ona for standing by and listening to this without objecting. Eventually, Marija says she will contribute ten dollars. Jurgis will give nothing, so Elzbieta goes to the neighbors and soon raises enough money to provide a hearse, a grave, and a wooden cross. Elzbieta continues to grieve. She had heard of a European surgeon who was performing experimental procedures on poor children. She regrets that she had not been able to take Kristoforas to him; she thinks perhaps he might have been saved.

Jurgis continues to search for work but finds nothing. His last resort is the fertilizer factory. This is considered to be the lowest level a man can reach, but Jurgis finally is forced to go and is given a job. The process of making fertilizer involves taking the waste materials from the butchering process, such as entrails and bones, and grinding them up into a fine, dry powder to make fertilizer. The smell is horrible and Jurgis quickly becomes sick to his stomach. The fertilizer gets on his skin and into his pores. When he comes home, it lies half an inch thick on him and pollutes the house. The others cannot eat because of the smell, but after a week, Jurgis becomes acclimated to it. He enjoys getting on the street cars after work and watching the people quickly move away from him with handkerchiefs over their noses.

The family is gradually beginning to pay its debts and save up a little money. The two young boys who were selling newspapers are learning to become street thugs. Their language is peppered with the rough talk of the street. They learn to gamble, and they know the names of all the prostitutes. Jurgis decides they must go back to school in the fall, and Elzbieta must go out and find a job. She secures a position in a sausage factory. It requires standing in one place from seven in the morning until five thirty in the afternoon, except for a half hour at lunch, filling casings with sausage meat.