Chapter 7 Summary

Jurgis and Ona are finally married, but the wedding feast leaves them one hundred dollars in debt. The morning after the wedding, the family goes to work, half asleep from the late hours and heavy eating. Ona cannot be late or she will lose her position. Stanislovas almost loses his job when he twice falls asleep at the lard-filling machine. It takes a week for all of them to recover. Jurgis regrets putting his new wife in such a precarious position, in which she must work so hard merely to survive. He vows to work harder so that her life will be easier.

Dede Antanas must work in an unheated basement, walking through a floor saturated with corrosive saltpeter. In time, his feet are lacerated with sores and he cannot walk. He is carried home and put to bed, from which he never rises. His cough worsens, and soon he is spitting up blood and is nothing but skin and bones. A doctor is called, but he pronounces that there is nothing to be done. One morning, the family finds Antanas dead. Jurgis has no time to mourn for his father because he is struggling against undertakers who try to cheat him in his grief.

Winter arrives, and the workers in the packing houses begin to sicken and die. Thousands of men wait outside the doors upon hearing of a new opening. The cold becomes unbearable. There is no heat in the packing houses, so many times ears and feet become frozen. Men find some relief by sticking their feet into the warm carcasses of the cows when the foreman is not looking. The cold causes many accidents because frozen hands cannot adequately handle the butchering knives. During lunch, the men surge into the bars, which are headquarters for union organizers. The only requirement to enter is to drink something, which encourages the incipient alcoholism of many of the men. Jurgis avoids all of this because of his concern for Ona.

At home, the small stove cannot adequately warm the house, not even the kitchen. Teta Elzbieta suffers all day in the cold, as do the children when they cannot go to school. At night, the family huddles around the stove, eating from their hands, and then goes to bed. Even there they cannot find adequate warmth. The children, all piled into one bed, fight to get the much-coveted middle spot where the warmth from the bodies of the other gives the most comfort. There is no mercy from the ever-increasing cold.