Chapter 14 Summary
The family now knows the secrets of the meat packing industry. They know that the odd bits of meat that are too spoiled to be sold are chopped up into sausage or else canned. Chemicals and preservatives are added to change the taste of the spoiled meat and to cover the foul odor. Rats crawl over exposed piles of meat and cover them with their droppings. Workers do not bother to remove the dead rats before they send the meat into the grinder, but there are worse things than dead rats in the meat that is sold to the public. All the meat is the same, but flavorings are added to make it “special” and so bring a higher price.
Elzbieta has now succumbed to a numb silence as she stands for hours at her sausage machine. When she meets Jurgis and Ona after work, the three of them walk home in silence. At home, the silence continues until they go to bed. In the morning, they wake in silence and return to work. Occasionally, however, Ona’s dreams reawaken, and she thinks about all the hopes and plans she used to have that have been effectively killed by her life in America. Jurgis has learned of the power of alcohol to numb the mind in the midst of horror. He does not become drunk, but often he spends whatever is in his pockets and comes home in a benumbed state. This is the only happiness he has, but the knowledge that it will soon wear off brings a surliness to his temperament. Ona cannot understand the draw of drink. Jurgis sometimes wishes that she could so that the two of them could drink together.
Through all this, little Antanas continues to bring joy to Jurgis’s heart. Antanas is a year old now and has gone through the usual round of childhood illnesses. At the moment he has measles, but the family decides that, since children only rarely die from measles, they will do without a doctor. They leave Antanas in the care of Kotrina, who is an old woman at thirteen. Antanas is barricaded on the bed for most of the day because the floor is drafty. At night he is tied in bed so he will not disturb the others. Ona is once again pregnant, but her health is failing. She coughs continually, just as Dede Antanas did before he died. Jurgis regrets marrying her and bringing her into this miserable life that is slowly killing her. Jurgis’s bitterness upsets Ona, and she cries on his shoulder until she manages to pull herself together and keep her feelings hidden from her husband.