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Out of This Furnace Essay

Most people have probably heard that many immigrants came to the US in the past for money (jobs), wealth, and a better life. But were most immigrants this successful? In the novel, Out of This Furnace by Thomas Bell, comes a story about the life of the Slovak immigrants working and struggling to survive in America. With the start of the period of industrialization consuming the country, large amounts of cheap unskilled labourers immigrated to the US and were employed to work for long hours with low wages in the US industries. This novel shows the struggle of three generations of Slovak immigrants working in the US mills enduring the poverty, filth, and poor living conditions that were associated with the steel cities at the time. The novel had four parts with the main character in each- Kracha, Mike Dobrejcak, Mary, and Dobie. And as time goes on in the novel, the reader finds that all of these main characters are in some way different from and similar to each other.

The novel begins in 1881 when Djuro Kracha first arrives in America and works in the Braddock steel mills in PA. This is technically when his family goes into the furnace or into the struggle for a better life. After a couple of years, Kracha decides to open a butcher shop and he gets consumable rich. But due to debts and adultery, Kracha eventually loses everything he owns and goes back to working in the mills. Then there’s his daughter Mary, the second generation in the 1900s, who marries a mill worker names Mike Dobrejcak. They stay married for about ten years and have a good marriage and family life. Though they never have enough money, they end up raising four kids and are constantly stressed by outside factors (poor living conditions, not enough money, etc.)

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And then the inevitable happens when Mike dies in an explosion in the mills one night. And Mary, a 30-year-old widow, is left with four small children. From there the third generation begins when Johnny (Dobie) Dobrejcak, the oldest child and son of Mary begins to work by first starting to sell newspapers, then by working at a glass factory, and finally in the steel mills at the age of fifteen. Then Around the 1920s, Dobie joins the union- a political group that towards the end of the novel helps to free the steel towns by creating economic justice and therefore establishing a better life for the steel industry workers. Dobie inspired by his father had a heart for politics and by joining the union and gaining a union victory had freed his family from the furnace.

In the novel, Out of This Furnace, what distinguishes Kracha from the rest of the main characters is his deceiving and abusive behaviour. Krishna’s character, even from the beginning of the novel was set and put forth when the author mentioned that “no one had thought to warn him (Kracha) against his own taste foe whiskey and against dark women who became nineteen years of age…” (p.4). Karachi, a newly married 21-year-old man with a pregnant wife left-back in his village in Hungary was coming to America by boat in 1881. While coming he met another married dark-skinned girl on the same ship, named Zuska, and soon became attracted to her. He threw her a birthday party before he came to New York, on the ship, and spent all his money on her and in return he wanted love from her. Even at this early stage in the book, Kracha is not only cheating on his wife but trying to commit adultery.

Then after a year of working on the railroads in White Haven, he sends for his wife to come to America after finding out their baby died. He finds his wife, Elena, not only in poor condition but also a poor wife who can’t supply him with what he needs. They have four children but Kracha by then thinks of her as unbeautiful, unresponding, and whining, and remarks that she makes a bitter taste in his mouth. One night after calling her a bag of bones he even shoves her to the ground and leaves her crying there, indifferent. After a couple of years of working in the mill, Kracha then gets smart and buys a butcher shop and soon sees Zuska and starts to visit secretly at her place. He soon starts going there at least two times a week and soon everyone hears about it. Elena can’t say anything but Kracha’s sister, Franck, comes over to his place one day and calls Kracha crazy, an adulterer, and a whoremonger.

And soon after starting his extramarital affair, Kracha eventually loses everything he owns. So you can kind of see how deceiving and wicked Kracha turns out to be and how his behaviour makes him lose everything. What differentiates Mike from the rest of the characters in Out of This Furnace is that Mike, unlike Kracha, has a more political spirit and is very ambitious. Though he works in the mill all his life from the time he arrived in America when he was about 14-15 years old, till the time he dies in 1917 at the age of 47, Mike is continually very attentive to what’s going on. At the age of 25, Mike was promoted to helper in the mills- a position less dangerous and less difficult with the same pay. He took English classes in his free time (p.120). He does things more than let things happen to him. When Mike’s daughter Pauline was born in November, Mike cast his first vote that month.

When Mike realized that no matter how good times were, he was always in debt and no matter how hard he worked he still had the same amount of money as he did ten years ago he decided to do something about it. So he opened a boarding house with six boarders who helped them survive the winter and by spring they were free of debt and had extra money to spend. When Mike started to go over his 30’s, work started to get tougher for him. And when Mary couldn’t take care of the borders anymore due to her pregnancy, things went down after they got rid of the borders. But overall, Mike was a devoted husband and good father. He set a good example for his kids to follow and Johnny countless times mentioned how he wished his father could have seen him when he was working in the union. Mary also mentioned how they had never had a fight and that “no women could have asked for a better husband” (p.216).

Mary is also different due to her strong, endurant character when she becomes a widow. Mary, being the female main character is constantly busy struggling with keeping the house afloat with endless chores and raising kids. And these jobs are usually even harder than working in the steel mills because it’s a non-stop 24-hour job that never ends. And her character is just basically a mother who’s helpful to her husband and faithful to her family. She’s the one who suggested the idea of starting a boarding house and was the one who did all of the work of caring for the boarders because they helped pay the rent. And Mary just basically makes her husband happy and they got along rather well.

A character trait that makes Johnny (Dobie) Dobrejcak different from the other characters is that when something unjust happens to him, he doesn’t sit there and accept it, Dobie acts against it. Dobie has mentioned more than once in the novel “nobody does that to me and gets away with it” (p. 332, 400). Dobie, like his father Mike, is also ambitious and into politics. But the difference between Dobie and Mike is that Dobie instead of only speaking and talking about how his life in the mills is unfair because he has low wages and prejudiced bosses, joins the union and goes down to Washington and tells people about it. Dobie, I find, is the most active character and isn’t afraid when he joins the union, and isn’t afraid to start a strike when nobody would recognize the union and this bravery and confidence is what makes him so successful.

These four characters (Kracha, Mike, Mary, and Dobie) in the novel, Out of This Furnace, are similar because they are all hard workers striving for the foal of making good money. They do whatever is necessary to make money and are very determined. Mary, like the other Slovak women (Francka), offers to open a boarding house, which was very common at the time. Krishna tries to make a lot of money by purchasing some land on Halket Avenue when he hears that it could be bought by the railroad company for triple the price. Mike, Mary’s husband, works and slaves his life away in the steel mill for money to support his family. And Dobie quits high school in order to work and support the family in his father’s place.

Another characteristic common in all of the characters is their ability to set high goals and make big plans for themselves. Kracha even from working in the mills constantly plans and sets goals for himself. In the novel, it mentioned that Kracha still hoped of returning to the old country rich, of buying a farm back in the hills, and of opening a business. Well, the last part turned out to be true. After his close friend’s, Dubik’s, death Kracha finally got to open a little butcher shop that got him into the middle class for a little while. But because Kracha had a flaw or weakness for women this brought him all the way back to working in the mills. Out of This Furnace is a story about the Slovak immigrants striving for a comfortable way of life in America. With each generation of the Slovak family working and growing up in the steel cities, one gets the idea of how the US industries came to be to what it is today.

This novel has not only helped me to understand my city’s, Pittsburgh’s, past and why it’s called the steel city, but it has also given me the idea of how life was for the immigrants that came to Pittsburgh to work on a daily basis. This book also shows how the relationship between management and labour has evolved during the 18th-20th century. Owners of the mills were racist against people like the Slovaks whom they called “Hunkies.” And workers didn’t have political freedom and didn’t have a say in what went on at work. Mike once described that there were Irish people who just got to America and were promoted to higher ranks in the steel mills right away when men like himself who’ve been working at the mill for twenty years were given orders by those newly arrived Irish men. There was a never-ending struggle between the workers and owners of the mile and strikes were mentioned often in the book. Some of the strikes were finished in violence and deaths. Overall the relationship between the mill owners and workers was never good and it got worse during Mike and Dobie’s time. Only when the company men broke down and agreed to sign a contract for a union did the workers finally get freedom and a better life. This book was very interesting and it was nice to learn about the lives of other immigrants.

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Out of This Furnace Essay. (2021, Apr 11). Retrieved May 5, 2021, from