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Tamoszius Kuszleika, the fiddler who played at Jurgis and Ona's wedding, becomes a regular visitor to the house, as he has fallen for Marija. His visits lighten the hearts of the entire family. Marija and the fiddler plan to marry in the spring. Tamoszius and Marija both earn decent money, and Jurgis has also been repaying Marija what the family owes her, so the couple is pretty confident their plans will succeed. All of a sudden, however, the canning factory where Marija is employed closes down.
Jurgis is also unhappy at work. At times the men are made to work overtime without pay and when the demand for meat slows down, the men earn as little as thirty-five cents in a day. A delegate of the butcher-helpers' union introduces Jurgis to the basics of trade unions. Soon, all members of his family are proud union members. Yet they are perplexed by the fact that the union is unable to do anything when Marija's factory shuts down. Jurgis begins attending union meetings regularly and is awe-struck by Tommy Finnegan, an Irish union man. Within the union, he discovers a new form of brotherhood.
This chapter is virtually like the sun emerging at the end of a cruel winter. It is lightened by the budding and somewhat comic romance of Marija and her admirer. The fiddler's comic personality has already been sketched out in some detail in the first chapter on the wedding scene. Here, it is further embellished. Marija's loud and exuberant confidence and the frail Tamoszius' extreme shyness contrast with great effect. The description of the family get- togethers is redolent with warmth, optimism, and humor. Marija, for example, has to be careful to dance only with women and old men when Tamoszius is playing, for he is so jealous that "any unmarried man who ventured to put his arm around the ample waist of Marija would be certain to throw the orchestra out of tune." But even the relatively sunny tone of this chapter is threaded with a sense of impending doom.
Through the example of Marija's canning factory closure, Sinclair explains how high wages are also really an illusion, because they are paid only for seasonal work that does not last through the year. When the demand ends, the factory is shut down and the 'highly paid' unemployed workers have to live off their savings for the rest of the year. In the packing plants, the situation is the same. The men still have to be at work at 7 a.m., but they do not begin to get paid until the cattle arrive, which sometimes does not occur until late in the afternoon. The men, says Sinclair blackly, are at the mercy of the cattle.
The introduction in this chapter, of an important character, Tommy Finnegan, the "little Irishman, with big staring eyes and a wild aspect," is also laced with humor. An important step ahead is taken by Jurgis, who sees new hope in the union. For the first time, he realizes there is an organized struggle being waged against the employers, a struggle of which he is a part. This realization causes him to undergo a change in attitude. Life in Packingtown taught Jurgis not to trust anyone except his family members. In the union, he discovers new allies, new brothers in affliction who are trustworthy.