Chapter 28 Summary
In the morning, Jurgis is driven to the court along with the arrested prostitutes and clients. He is terrified when he sees that it is the same court and the same judge he had when he had a sentence suspended in the days of his activity with the political machine. Jurgis is believed to be a “suspicious character,” so he is tried separately. The other clients are reprimanded and released. Jurgis said he was only visiting his sister, so he is told to keep his sister in a better place. He is released as well, but the prostitutes are fined five dollars each, which is paid by their madame.
Jurgis and Marija return to her room in the bordello. Jurgis asks Marija if she has been ill; her face looks like yellow parchment and her eyes have black rings around them. Marija calmly explains that she is addicted to morphine. Jurgis notices that her conversation is littered with vulgarity and swear words, attributable to the hard life she now lives. Marija explains that drugs are the only way the girls can survive. She tells Jurgis that she does not plan to leave, even if she could. She explains the system: Girls are “recruited” and quickly overcharged for food, lodging, and clothing, which leaves them in debt to the madame, who will not release them until the debt is paid. Because the debt is much more than they can save from their small wages, they are kept in perpetual slavery. Marija also tells Jurgis of the practice of White slavery, in which girls are brought from overseas, believing that they are coming to America to work as factory laborers or servants. They are brought to bordellos, drugged, raped, and forced to remain and work as prostitutes to get their clothes back.
Marija tells Jurgis to go to Elzbieta, but Jurgis refuses to do this until he has a job. He still feels guilty for running off and leaving them after Antanas’s death, but Marija tells him that no one blames him. Jurgis heads for Elzbieta’s but decides to get something to eat first. After that, he decides the night is warm enough that he can sleep outside and wait until morning to face Elzbieta. He wanders into a socialist political meeting and falls asleep. He is awakened by the woman next him, who tells him that if he listens to the speech he might find the answers he is seeking. The speech focuses on the plight of the working class and the heartlessness of the government. Jurgis feels rejuvenated by this message of hope of change and joins the crowd in cheering at the speech’s conclusion.