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CHAPTERS 20 - 21
Ona dies on a Sunday morning. Jurgis remains drunk through that day and the next and returns home on Monday night. Ona has not yet been buried, funeral is not yet over, but the police have been informed and the authorities will bury the body in the potter's field. Elzbieta collects pennies from neighbors to pay for a mass. Aniele scolds Jurgis for being a useless drunk, spending money on liquor while his wife lies dead and the children starve and banishes him from the kitchen to the garret. Faced with Ona's corpse in the garret, Jurgis is overwhelmed with memories of their days in Lithuania when Ona was "fair, beautiful as the flowers, singing like a bird" and is then tortured by the thought of her suffering and the fact that she is lost for ever. Marija and Elzbieta have decided not to reproach Jurgis. Instead Elzbieta pleads with Jurgis to be responsible for the sake of little Antanas and seek work. With Ona still lying dead before him, Jurgis has little choice but to agree.
The boss at Durham's fertilizer mill refuses to hire Jurgis again. A week of searching finds him a place at Jones. Jurgis is pleased, but his happiness is short-lived. When he returns to the next day to begin work, the boss refuses to hire him. Jurgis realizes that the packers have blacklisted him because of his attack on Connor. The only chance of employment Jurgis now has is downtown. Elzbieta and Marija stay on in Packingtown and it is arranged that while Jurgis seeks work downtown, the children will meet him there everyday and give him fifteen cents from their newspaper sales.
Downtown, Jurgis' hunt for employment lasts several weeks. His luck turns when he meets a union colleague who helps him secure a job in the harvester works. The working conditions and pay at the harvester works are far superior to those at the packinghouses. The machines that mass manufacture harvester parts mesmerize Jurgis and he carefully inspects how the men use the machines. Although he must trudge many miles to work, Jurgis is in high spirits. He hopes to learn the trade of a skilled worker and dreams of securing Marija a job in the plant and then bringing the family to stay with him. His dreams are quickly shattered -- Jurgis is laid off within nine days of being hired.
Struggling to survive after losing the job, Jurgis grows bitter again. He has to fight like an animal for the barest necessities. He returns to Packingtown and finds he might get a job. A social worker had encountered Juozapas foraging for food at Mike Scully's dump and came to meet Elzbieta. Moved by the family's tragic story, she sent them food and arranged for a job for Jurgis at a steel mill, where her fiancé was a superintendent.
The distant steel mill, located fifteen miles from Packingtown in South Chicago, overawes Jurgis. Jurgis is guided through the mill by one of the superintendent's juniors and is shown the Bessemer furnace, the blast furnaces, the rolling mills where steel rails are manufactured for the rail tracks and other wonders of the mill. When offered a job moving steel rails, he jumps at it. He stays at a lodging house during the week and goes home only on weekends, because travel is expensive. Jurgis is soon absorbed in the work, although there are many accidents.
One day, Jurgis rushes to the rescue of a worker who is badly burned when a brick furnace explodes. Jurgis also suffers injuries and is forced to stay home for eight days without pay. The silver lining to Jurgis' enforced leave is the time he can spend with Antanas. His lovable, naughty and hardy son inspires Jurgis, who wants to give Antanas a good future. Elzbieta has meanwhile secured a job scrubbing office floors. Marija gets a job as a beef trimmer and Jurgis recovers and returns to work. He is once again happy and hopeful.
One Saturday after a rainstorm, he returns home and finds a throng outside Aniele's house, akin to the one when Ona died. He learns that little Antanas has drowned in the flooded alley.
Elzbieta's personality is rather well illustrated in this section. Although upset by Jurgis' behavior, she and Marija make a conscious decision not to berate him. Instinctively Elzbieta knows that the only way to keep Jurgis bound to the family is to appeal to his emotions. Obviously, Elzbieta also knows Jurgis' mindset well enough to realize that he could become another Jonas, now that the strongest chain binding him to the family has been broken. Sinclair portrays Elzbieta as the ultimate survivor, capable of swallowing her grief and carrying on, "Elzbieta was one of the primitive creatures: like the angle worm, which goes on living though cut in half; like a hen, which, deprived of her chickens one by one, will mother the last that is left her."
The reader learns about another machination of the packers; the blacklist that is used to keep out "troublemakers" from work. The efficiency with which this blacklist works is a measure of the packers' unity and organizing skills, and they are willing to spend a small fortune on spies and observers to keep it in place. Of course, they deny the blacklist's existence. Later in the book, Jurgis gets employment despite the blacklist, because the packers and their political allies want to use him as a tool.
Earlier in the book, Sinclair noted that Antanas' birth made Jurgis "irrevocably a family man." With little Antanas' death, the process comes full circle. The ties that had weakened with Ona's death are now completely broken by Antanas' tragedy, and Jurgis ceases to consider himself part of a family.