Chapter 2 Summary

Jurgis is a giant of a man. He was born in the country and is a reliable worker, strong and full of energy. He never saw a city in Lithuania because he lived in the Imperial Forest with his father, Antanas. His brother had joined the army and has not been heard from for ten years. His sister married and remained on the farm when her father and brother came to America.

Jurgis met Ona a year and a half previously, at a horse fair. Her father was rich and proud and did not approve of Jurgis as a suitor for his daughter. However, Jurgis journeys for two weeks to try again to convince him to allow him to marry Ona, and he finds that the rich man is dead and his estate tied up with creditors. Ona’s step-mother, Teta Lukoszaite, works the farm with her brother, Jonas. Ona loves her family and will not marry Jurgis and leave them. Jonas suggests that they all travel to America, where an acquaintance of his went and became rich. After much hard work, they raise the money. Ona’s cousin Marija also decides to join them. She worked many years for a farmer who beat her. When she grew old enough, she beat him in return, almost killing him.

Jurgis and the others are cheated both in Lithuania and in New York, where they are easy prey because they do not know the language. Their plan is to go to Chicago, where the stockyards promise jobs for all. When they arrive, they feel overwhelmed by the size of the buildings and by the strange sounds and smells. As they walk more closely to the stockyards, they see the green grass get a little less green. They see brick buildings and tall chimneys. They have nowhere to stay, so they sleep in a doorway until a policeman takes them to the station. He points them on their way to Packingtown. There they encounter Jokubus Szedvilas, the acquaintance of whom Jonas had spoken. He owns a delicatessen and helps them find lodgings.

The boarding house is overcrowded; sometimes there are more than a dozen people to a room. The proprietor, Mrs. Jukniene, does not bother cleaning the place; she lets chickens run throughout the rooms in the pretense of letting them “clean” the floor for her. The streets are crowded with children who are too poor to go to school. Despite the filth and the crowded conditions, Jurgis and Ona see it as a place of promise. Looking toward the stockyards, Jurgis tells Ona that the next day he will go there and get a job.