Summary and Analysis
While Jurgis searches for work, another tragedy strikes the family: Kristoforas, Elzbieta's youngest child, dies. She begs from the neighbors in order to have enough money for a funeral. Unable to find work anywhere else, Jurgis applies for and accepts a job at the fertilizer factory. From the moment he begins shoveling fertilizer into carts, Jurgis is covered with dust and begins suffering from headaches and dizziness. And now he smells horribly. But at least he has a job. During the summer, Elzbieta's sons take up disturbing habits — swearing, smoking, gambling, and not coming home — and in order to break them of these habits, Elzbieta herself goes to work, enabling her sons to return to school. If they attend school, then they will not be out on the streets. She ends up finding work in a sausage house, twisting sausage links.
Continuing his elaboration of survival of the fittest, Sinclair emphasizes survival techniques throughout Chapter 13. After weeks of frustration, Jurgis finally agrees to seek employment at the worst possible site — the fertilizer plant. Jurgis is out of options and accepts the job, and even though it makes him physically ill, he keeps the job. He is determined to earn a living and support his family, no matter the cost to him as an individual. Fertilizer invades his clothes as the stench invades his person, and Jurgis is forced to live with his choice every moment of every day.
Like Jurgis, Elzbieta does something she does not want to do: She gets a job. She does this in order to allow her children to attend school. Jurgis and Elzbieta represent the old-world work ethic, where parents endure all sorts of hardships for the sake of their children, working hard and sacrificing with the hope that their children will have a better life. Elzbieta and the other workers at the sausage plant are compared to animals in cages: When visitors tour the plant, they're encouraged to focus on the machines and not the people, which is what the tourists do. This not-too-subtle comment emphasizes the value of technology while simultaneously devaluing humans, another complaint directed towards capitalism.
When Kristoforas dies, Marija loans Elzbieta some money for funeral expenses. This foreshadows the fact that one day the entire family will depend on Marija's income for survival, especially at a time when Jurgis is either unwilling or unable to provide for their basic wants and needs.
obdurate not easily moved to pity or sympathy; hardhearted.
charnel a building or place where corpses or bones are deposited.
savant a learned person; eminent scholar.
ptarmigan a brownish bird with feathered legs and feet, usually having white plumage in the winter.
prestidigitator an expert at sleight of hand.