Chapter 9 Summary

Due to his interest in the union meetings, Jurgis resolves to learn English so he can understand and participate more. He begins by studying with the children as they do their schoolwork, and then he learns that there are free night classes. Every evening, Jurgis goes to the class, even if he can make only the last half hour. The union also presents him with the idea of democracy. The union is like a small country, where each man has a vote. He has discovered that, as in Russia, there are rich men who own everything, but in the union he has a voice to determine leadership and action.

One day at work, a man approaches Jurgis and asks if he would like to be a citizen. Jurgis is excited at the prospect because this would make him truly part of the democratic process. Although his foreman would not give him half a day off to get married, Jurgis is granted time off with pay to go to the courthouse to apply for citizenship. Jurgis and other immigrants are taken downtown, where they sign their names and become naturalized citizens. Later, Jurgis learns how to register to vote. On election day, a union representative takes him to voting place, tells him how to fill out the ballot, and then pays him two dollars. It is only later that he learns from Jonas that his vote has been bought. Jonas voted three times to earn four dollars. Jurgis thus discovers that the whole process is dishonest graft in both political parties. In local elections, the Democratic Party always wins and is run by Mike Scully, the Irish political boss. Scully earns money with his political machine, and he gets business contracts that earn him even more. However, Scully works for the common people, so the laborers follow his lead.

Jurgis learns how diseased meat is rerouted back into the packing house. This meat is sold to the general public, causing illness and even death. Unidentified meat is sold as potted chicken. Goats are slaughtered and sold as mutton. Because of the presence of all this diseased meat, a simple cut becomes dangerous for the workers. Often cuts become infected and result in the loss of fingers and hands. The cold injures the joints, causing swollen knuckles. In the fertilizer rooms, men fall into the boiling vats. There is not enough left of the bodies to hand over to their grieving families.