Chapter 6 Summary

Jurgis and Ona have been a couple for almost two years, but they still do not have enough money to get married. They consider doing without a wedding feast, but this upsets Teta Elzbieta so much that she cannot sleep at night. She clings to Dede Antanas, and the two oldest adults worry that this new country will undermine the virtues brought from Lithuania. Teta Elzbieta buys a small shrine and hopes it will bring lasting stability to their home. Ona suggests that she may get a job. As she and Jurgis consider this, they encounter another tremendous roadblock.

A neighbor, Grandmother Majauszkiene, has lived in Packingtown for many years. She tells them the history of the neighborhood, and there do not seem to be many bright spots. She tells Jurgis and his family that their supposedly new home is in fact fifteen years old. It is built of shoddy materials and was given a new coat of paint to make it look more attractive to gullible buyers. Four families have lived there before them, and each one was struck by tragedy. Consumption (tuberculosis) seems to have cursed the house, causing at least one member of each family to die.

Grandmother Majauszkiene tells the long line of immigrants who have come to Packingtown. First came the Germans, who were brought here because of their skill in butchering. After them came the Irish, followed by the Bohemians. The Poles lived there next, and then came the Lithuanians like Jurgis and his family. The Slovaks are now moving in as the newest ethnic group to have the majority presence. Grandmother Majauszkiene goes on and on with her horror stories. She then informs the family members that the agent has tricked them. Not only do they owe twelve dollars a month, but they also must pay interest on their debt. This is an additional seven dollars, which makes their total monthly payment nineteen dollars. Horrified, Teta Elzbieta and Ona go to see the agent the next day and learn that this is true. The agent explains that he did not tell them because he assumed they understood that there would be an interest payment.

On learning this, Jurgis vows to work harder, as always. They decide that Stanislovas must also work, though he is only fourteen and the child labor laws say he must be at least sixteen. They go to the priest to have a birth certificate falsified to show Stanislovas’s age as two years older. He immediately gets a job loading lard cans onto the filling machine. It seems that he will occupy this job for the rest of his life.