(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

In a large room on the ground floor of Dreissiger’s house the weavers were bringing in their finished webs. Pfeifer, manager for Dreissiger, inspected each piece and assessed its value. He had a sharp eye for flaws and the amounts he named were low. From the complaints aired, the weavers were near starvation. In general, however, the weavers were a docile, tractable lot.

Old Baumert came in carrying a bundle wrapped in cloth. It was the body of his pet dog. Baumert had not had the heart to kill the animal himself, but he had had it butchered to provide meat for his family. The dog was only a skinny, half-grown pup, not large enough to feed his destitute family.

Most of the weavers were squat and sickly, but Becker was a young, impudent giant. When he heard the price Pfeifer would allow for his web, he refused on the ground that such an amount was alms, not wages. In fury Pfeifer called for Dreissiger, who upheld his manager. A diversion was created when a child fainted. Dreissiger was angry because the child’s parents had sent him so far with the heavy web; he ignored the crowd’s explanation that the child was starving.

Because of the tension in the room, Dreissiger harangued the weavers. In his view he provided work; if the weavers did not want to do his work, they could go elsewhere. Then he made a portentous announcement: he was engaging two hundred more weavers, and the new rates of pay would be lower.

The Baumerts occupied one room in the house of William Ansorge, a former weaver. Old Baumert was too feeble to do much and his wife was crippled. One daughter, Emma, was twenty-two. She had a boy of four fathered by a consumptive weaver who had died before they could be married. Bertha, the second daughter, was a pallid girl of fifteen. The two sisters spent long hours at the loom. Their landlord, Ansorge, was too old to weave any more; he led a miserable existence mending baskets.

When old Baumert came in, he brought with him Moritz Jaeger, a returned soldier. Jaeger was a fine strapping youth with good clothes and money in his pockets, the center of interest as he told of his successes in the army. He kindly provided a bottle of brandy which cheered the family immensely.

Bertha cooked their dog meat in the oven. With meat and brandy they would have a feast. Ansorge joined them as the smell of cooking meat spread through the house. To his intense disgust, Baumert’s stomach could not hold the meal; two years had passed since he had tasted meat.

Jaeger was appalled at the misery of the weavers. Able to read, he was pessimistic about any relief for the workers. The papers had recently published the report of the Berlin inspector who had been sent to investigate their living conditions. The bureaucrat had asserted solemnly that there was no one in want among them. Jaeger had found a different answer.

He began to read to them a marching song that told the woes...

(The entire section is 1209 words.)