Chapter 21 Summary

After learning of the closure of the factory, Jurgis goes home, disheartened by yet another exposure of the falsity of the American Dream. He thinks it is a mockery that a man loses his job because he is successful at it. For two days, Jurgis is down, but he does not drink because Elzbieta has the keeping of his money. Antanas is hungry and cries, and Madame Haupt is demanding the rest of her money for attending Ona’s childbirth. 
Jurgis roams the street for ten days, often sleeping in the police station to escape the sub-zero temperatures. Only the money the children earn from selling their newspapers keeps them from starving. They have encountered some danger as well. One time a woman threatens to call the truant officer on the boys. A man tries to drag Kotrina into a dark alley, and she dreads going to work thereafter.

Juozapas, one of Elzbieta’s boys, rummages through the local dump and finds some frozen scraps of food. He brings this home and feeds it to Antanas, which horrifies Elzbieta. When the baby seems all right, Elzbieta allows Juozapas to go back to the dump. While he is there, a well-dressed woman approaches him and begins asking him questions about his family. When she learns about Jurgis’s time in jail and Ona’s death, she shows up at Aniele’s and meets with the family. Elzbieta tells her their story until the woman begins to weep in sympathy. She sends some food to the family and gives Jurgis a letter to present at a steel mill on the south side of the city; it tells the superintendent that she will not marry him if he does not give Jurgis a job.

The steelworks are fifteen miles away, which means two transfers on streetcars. Jurgis presents his letter at the gate and is ushered into the factory. The superintendent is busy, but the time-keeper shows him around. Jurgis is amazed at the massive equipment used to make steel rails, and he feels fearful at the sight of the pouring liquid metal. He is given a job moving the rails from the production line. Once a furnace explodes, spattering liquid steel on two of the workers. Jurgis helps them but burns his hand in the process, which causes him to miss work for nine days without pay.

Antanas has begun to talk and is even more the joy of Jurgis’s life. He is developing a temper, which pleases his father because the boy will need to be tough to survive. As spring arrives, the streets are flooded with mud. Jurgis returns one day to find a crowd of people gathered in the kitchen, just like when Ona was dying. He is terrified of what has happened now. Marija tells him that little Antanas is dead, drowned in the flooded street.