Out of This Furnace
Analyzing Thomas Bell’s Out of This Furnace
Thomas Bells novel Out of this Furnace examines the mill workers in the late nineteenth century. This was the period that many Europeans made the trip to America in search of a better life. In hopes of one day going home wealthy, these unskilled laborers worked long hours in dirty, dangerous factories for measly wages that barely paid enough for room and board. One of these hopefuls that Bell puts into perspective is Djuro Kracha. In the novel Kracha comes to America with nothing and works hard for many years in a steel mill. After some time, Kracha becomes a prosperous entrepreneur of a butcher shop. However, through a series of events, he loses everything: his wife, his business, his land, his home, and his children. Why did these things happen? He brought upon himself the downfall because of his inability to resist temptation.
Kracha is a hard working man. One of the underlying themes of Out of this Furnace is that hard work is supposed to be rewarded. Unfortunately, in the late 1800s, one had to more than just work to become successful. Luckily, Kracha is also a smart man. He sees an opportunity to start a business and runs away with it. However, from the very beginning, we can see that Kracha has two weaknesses. His first is Zuska Mihula, a dark and mysterious woman he cannot keep his eyes off of. Later on, the reader is clued in to how much he really likes her when he is talking with his old friend Dubik. I would have given every penny I had for half an hour alone with her (13). Kracha has spent all of his money on liquor to celebrate Zuskas birthday. This explains why Kracha had to walk all the way form New York to White Haven. He used the alcohol to coerce her into having sex with him, but she would not concede to his desires. Later in the novel, she also causes him trouble, but this time it is his ruin. He has a secret affair with her, and naturally everyone finds out. When this news is discovered, Kracha loses all of his customers. In desperation, Kracha turns to his second weakness: alcohol.
Alcohol is a considerable part of Krachas life. He abuses it in different ways throughout the book. In one instance he capitalizes on the human addiction to alcohol to gain a job. He offers he Irishman a drink as a bribe for a job. The Irishman replies, I never refuse a drink. Then Dubik and Kracha laughed heartily at this confession of human weakness (29). In another instance, Mike Dobrejcak is down because of Bryans Presidential loss. To comfort him, Kracha believes that alcohol will cheer him up, and says, Now come on, I buy you a drink. The world hasnt come to an end (67). It seems as though alcohol can heal everything. When his world falls around him, Kracha goes on to drinking steadily (90) in his self pity. Eventually, he starts beating his second wife, Zuska. However, he was unable to remember all that happened that memorable summer, possibly because during its two most crowded months [in the butchers shop] he was continuously drunk (107).
In the start of his downfall Kracha could not resist Zuska. This caused him to lose his business. In the end, he could not resist the alcohol in his self-pity. An immigrant that did not know English in the late 1800s could have been prosperous as Kracha has shown. Unfortunately, his lack of resistance to temptation brought about his eventual ruin.
The Industrialization Period in Out of This Furnace by Thomas Bell
“Out of This Furnace” by Thomas Bell first started off in the late 1800s when the industrialization period was first starting. In the industrialization period people were working in difficult positions and under awful circumstances. In “Out of This Furnace” Bell divides the book into four different narrators, Djuro Kracha, Mary Kracha Dobrejcaks, Mike Dobrejcaks and Dobie Dobrejcaks, each part showing what challenges they faced trying to provide for their families and achieve the American Dream and really expressed what people actually had to go through every day in that time period.
In the first part of “Out of This Furnace” the narrator is Djuro Kracha, Kracha is moving from Hungary to America, when getting to America and noticing that he has little money he walks to Pennsylvania where his few family members live. Coming to America to have a better life as soon as Kracha got to Pennsylvania he immediately started working for the railroad and eventually getting a secure job. Kracha then got a job at the steel mill, Kracha described working in the mill as, “At the end of each day-turn week came a long turn of twenty-four hours, when we went into the mill Sunday morning at six and worked continuously until Monday morning. Then home to wash, eat and sleep until five that afternoon, when he got up and returned to the mill to begin his night work week.” (Bell 47) The conditions at the steel mill were described as exhausting with poor pay but Kracha still continued to work for the poor pay to continue to support his family. After time Kracha and his wife had enough money to open a meat market owned and operated by him, but since Kracha had no business experience his business fell through and left him with losing everything.
Djuro’s daughter and husband, Mary and Mike Dobrejcaks make up the second and third part of the book. Mike is the complete opposite of Djuro, he wants nothing more than to provide for his family no matter the work. Mike grew up working most of his life so he knew how hard to get through in life really is. Mike was somewhat educated, knowing how to read and write, and he was considered good looking, so he had a lot going for him in his life. In this part if the book Bell really shows how long and hard the steel mill was to work at saying, “…; men might tire but they didn’t, no matter how much work was done it was never enough.” (Bell 166) After Mike is killed in a steel mill accident Mary is forced to continue on alone. Mary was heartbroken and packed up and left the house that her and Mike lived in. Mary had to deal with the children, getting them to school and feeding them, and she had to do all of her daily chores too she never had the chance of having a day off and she was exhausted. In the end Mary raised all of the children on her own and continued on.
The last part of the “Out of This Furnace” was Dobie Dobrejcaks, Mary and Mike’s son, in the end of the book he was clearly the protagonist of the story. Knowing what his father and grandfather went through working in the mills, he leaves the mills and look for opportunities to help labor issues that have been a major concern. As said in Djuro’s part of the book, “In Braddock it was an exceptional month which we didn’t see a man crippled or killed outright.” (Bell 47) What Dobie wanted to achieve is being able to help immigrants we need the work stay safe but still be able to provide for themselves and in the end he was able to achieve his goal and also his family’s goal of having the American Dream.
Overall, in Bells book it shows what people had to go through during that time, the struggles they had to face and relating the book to a story really helped understand what the conditions were back then.
Family Dynasty in Out of This Furnace
A world filled with uncertaintyand when has it ever been otherwise?there is one thing of which you can be sure: You can never have enough books. So one Saturday afternoon soon after I moved to Austin I went trolling for answers in the history and travel sections of a second-hand bookstore, where I found myself staring at two stacks of books slumped against a bin.
They were worn, discarded copies of Out of This Furnace, a three-generation family saga about immigrants from Eastern Europe and the steel mill towns outside Pittsburgh. The novel by Thomas Bell begins with George Kracha, a hapless young man who in the 1880s leaves his home in the easternmost corner of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He arrives penniless in New York, having frittered away his meager savings in an unsuccessful attempt to seduce an attractive dark-haired, dark-eyed young married woman on the boat to the United States, and walks from Manhattan to the rail yards of Pennsylvania, where a job awaits him. The next generation tries to do the right thingKrachas daughter marries a man who is so earnest, so hardworking that his name, Dobrejcak means “good man.” But they are plagued by the bad luck that comes from back-breaking work in the mills and ghastly industrial accidents. Because the author was something of an optimist, as well as a champion of labor rights, the third generation is the story of a triumphant unionization campaign, along with all the ambiguities that come from acculturation. As he slyly observes in an authors note, Out of This Furnace was a thinly disguised version of his familys own history: “This book is a novel, fiction, andallowing for the obvious exceptionsthe proper names used in it do not refer to actual persons who may bear the same or similar names. With that said, this much more may be: I have been as true to the events, the people and the place as lay within my power.”
When it was first published in 1941, it was heralded as a novel of “the new immigration,” or as one critic described it, a portrait of “the America of the newcomer for those who sometimes forget that at one time they too were newcomers.” But by 1950 it was out of print and might have faded away forever had it not been rescued many years later by a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. Dave Demarest tracked down Bells survivors and wrote an Afterword for a new edition, which was published in 1976. Since then it has sold more than 150,000 copies. The novel was once listed among the top 10 fictional works published by university presses (Long Days Journey Into Night, Eugene ONeills family saga, was ranked number one.) It appears on countless reading lists in universities throughout the country; a professor of urban geography at the University of Liverpool not only teaches the book, twice he has brought his students to walk through deserted industrial landscapes and stand at the grave of a man named Mike Belejcak, the father of Thomas Bell and the model for the fictional Mike Dobrejcak. And thats where things start to get interestingat least as far as Im concerned.
Depiction of Hard and Strenuous Work in Out of This Furnace
Life in the late 19th and early 20th century was depressing and was an era filled with extremely hard and strenuous work that did not offer much future for the average person . An average wage earner could be virtually stuck in the same job for the rest their life, while the rich maintained their wealth mainly caused by the low taxes. Living conditions were poor for the average person and even worse for arriving immigrants. Despite the dreary and miserable outlook, many Americans, holding onto the ideals of laissez-faire and the American Dream, persevered in the hopes of success. Thomas Bell’s Out of this Furnace is one such story. Coming to America with dreams and hopes of a better life, Bell tells the story of reality and challenges that await the immigrating Slovaks. He shows through the lives of Kracha, Mike, and Mary, that immigrants can be successful despite the anti-immigrant sentiment and power of large corporations.
Djuro Kracha, a recent immigrant, leaves Hungary in hopes that he is “leaving behind the endless poverty and oppression that were the birthrights of a Slovak peasant in Franz Josef’s empire” (Bell, p.3). Kracha’s desire to leave his plight behind in his native country and restart his life in America is the reason that also drove the Chinese to the United States, earlier the Irish and later the Mexicans (Discussion, 10/11/99). All of these immigrants have had to take some time to assimilate and to be accepted by the “Americans” ethnically, socially, and politically. Kracha is the first of his immediate family to come to the United States. Despite his dreams to leave poverty behind, Kracha, foolishly spends his money on alcohol, landing in New York without much money. He only has the hope of walking west until he finds his brother-in-law, Andrej Sedlar, in White Haven. Since he does not have money or a job Kracha finds that he if he wants his dreams to come true he will have to rise from poverty.
Tired of toiling in utter the most monotony of whistles calling them to work, workers always would constantly hope that someday they could escape. For Kracha knows that to escape and to obtain freedom to run one’s own farm or business requires money or capital. Finding jobs at the steel and iron furnaces, Kracha and his generation of Slovaks are only concerned with surviving and saving enough to go back home rich. Immigrants would work long hours, especially during the long shifts (Discussion, 10/11/99), for minimal wages, risking their lives in hopes that one day they might become independent and successful. Kracha does whatever the supervisor says and “works like a horse” (Bell, p.17) so he can get his pay. Their dreams elude them and they feel trapped by the mills rigid schedules. Dreaming of farming and a free life, Dubik, Kracha’s friend, says “But do you know what I’d like to do? Buy a little farm back in the hills somewhere” (Bell, p.33). The furnaces already restrict their lives. For many, the furnaces were an end to not just their dreams but also their lives.
However, Kracha breaks free from this mold. Aspiring not to waste his entire life in the steel mills, Kracha becomes the butcher of his shop. Where there seemed be little hope for immigrants to have their own business, Kracha succeeds in his attempts to be independent. He enjoys the freedom from the whistles that signaled the workers, but he is at the same time burdened with the demands of his customers, employees, and finances for rent, taxes, permits, and supplies. His butcher shop is a measure of his success as “prosperous businessman” (Bell, p.75). Amongst these businesses and even with the mill departments, strong influences come from common ethnic backgrounds. Politics means little to the First Ward Slovak community. They are not U.S. citizens and only seek to collect enough savings to set out on their own. Developments like the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor (Lecture, 10/6/99) never enter their minds. Being a businessman, Kracha is respected by his customers and peers for rising above the mill workers. However, his affair with Zuska brings Kracha and his business down. For a while, Kracha is able to experience independence, being off on his own. That financial freedom is short lived and Kracha soon becomes like the other workers, dreaming of having something of their own. However, this shows that Slovak immigrants could rise from the seemingly abysmal depths of anti-immigrant sentiment. It is Kracha himself who causes his downfall.
Kracha wastes his later years working and drinking, his family shattered by his affair. His eldest daughter, Mary, marries Mike Dobrejcak, a mill worker. Immigrated during his teens, Mike has been raised by Dorta. She has always protected, cared for Mike and hoped that Mike would marry the right girl. Her wish for Mike is that he would have a decent family. Dorta, very accepting of Mary, let them face the realities of life.
Financially, they face some difficulties. The United States Steel Company, for which Mike works for, offers “stock to its employees…to find out how much money the workers could save on the wages they were getting
” and cut their wages accordingly (Bell, p.145). This reveals the extreme measures big corporations would take to cut wages so that they would make more money and exploit the immigrants. However, Mike and Mary are able to make extra money by taking in boarders. This indirectly is a way of defeating the system that would try to give less money to the workers. With this money, the family is able to fulfill some their material desires and have some entertainment. Despite hardships with wage cuts and long hours, Mike and Mary manage to have some financial security. Mike in his mind is successful enough that he is happy with his situation. He “used to have such ideas [like farming and working the land], make such great plans. No more” (Bell, p.197). He seeks out happiness in his own means.
Politically, Mike and the second generation of Slovaks become even more aware of their vote and campaigns. This is their voice amongst the booming noise of the trusts and giant businesses. With their concerns and a greater awareness of what is happening around them, the second generation starts to vote. Pressured by his employer, “Mike [has] registered as a Republican
” (Bell, p189). Despite the pressure from his employer, he votes socialist and manages to exercise his political freedoms as long as he does not speak. Mike is able to fight the system and triumph in his political beliefs, regardless of the desires of corporate America to influence their decisions.
Even with the never-ending struggles that plague their union, their family, stable and strong, become more like the “middle class” Americans. As Kracha rises from being a common Slovak, so do the Dobrejcak’s. Their strong family keeps their hopes and dreams together. Despite Mary’s pregnancies and boarders, the family’s unification is strong. They do not allow the fact that they are “Hunkies” bring them down. No matter what struggles they face, the Dobrejcak’s are able to overcome their hardships. Their cooperation and strength of working together through monetary hardships and the sharing of their concerns bring that sense of one’s own sphere of control and harmony to the Dobrejcak’s. Perhaps indirectly, the mills make Mike rich with a loving wife and family.
Kracha, Mike, and Mary dream of a better life, one without financial difficulties or suppression by the mill. As a businessman, Kracha achieves some success and freedom by having his own butcher shop. He is able to gain independence from the steel mills, but finds this independence short-lived by his affair with Zuska. Mary and Mike may not have been successful by monetary standards, but they are able to achieve success by having a strong family that does not allow the anti-immigrant sentiment and large corporations to ruin them. By overcoming their struggles and hardships, Kracha, Mike, and Mary prove that immigrants can succeed in the “land of opportunity,” America.