Chapter 23 Summary

In the early fall, Jurgis returns to Chicago with fifteen dollars in his pocket. He separates himself from the other tramps because he has money and they do not. On warm nights, Jurgis sleeps outside in any place he can find where he will not be bothered. In bad weather, he finds cheap lodging houses; he knows the fifteen dollars must last him probably two months until he can find a job.

Jurgis returns to the steel mill and the harvester works, but his positions were given to other men long ago. He avoids answering the want ads in the paper, knowing that most of them are scams by people charging money to procure jobs. However, his next job is the result of his answering an ad. When he applies, Jurgis is asked if he has ever worked in Chicago before. He fears that he is still blacklisted, so he says he has not. He says he is an unskilled laborer from Kansas City. He is offered a job digging tunnels for telephone lines. He is to be paid fifteen cents an hour, and he starts immediately. He is puzzled by the wide tunnels and the tracks inside. He learns later that this was in reality a means of avoiding the teamsters’ union—building underground rails to carry material between the factories without hiring teamsters. When it is discovered, it causes a great scandal, but for now Jurgis is happy to be making some money.

He continues to live cheaply until he is injured when a loaded car slams into his shoulder. He is carried by ambulance to the hospital, where his arm is set. He stays there two weeks over Christmas, which is the best holiday he has spent in America. When he is released from the hospital, he returns to his boarding house to find that the landlady has rented his room and has no more available. He is still too weak to return to work, so he pawns his digging tools. He goes to a revival meeting but feels contemptuous of the evangelists who speak of sin and suffering without ever having to really suffer.

It is now January 1904 and the beginning of a severe recession. Many factories are closing down, putting thousands of men out of work. Jurgis wanders from saloon to saloon, telling his pitiful story in hopes of getting some money. However, there are so many beggars who fake an injury or hard-luck story that the deserving poor have no chance.