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Discuss the lives of the following female characters: Elena, Franka, Mary, Zulka and Julie. What type of work did each of them do? What kind of working conditions did each have to contend with? How difficult was it for them to maintain families?
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A Novel Book Review: Thomas Bell, Out of This Furnace The book Out of This Furnace is a novel of three generations of a Slovak’s family immigration to America where began in the mid-1880s when industrialization consuming the country. This novel mainly focuses on the life of four characters- George, Mary, Mike, and Dobie, like many European immigrants, are in hope of getting wealthier and better life through working hard in America. But life is not easy and always smooth sailing when they move to America, they encounter and overcome the downs and problems which are way more than the ups while pursuing the American Dream. The story starts with George Kracha, who are the first immigrant in his family, wants to find a better life in America after leaving his own country- Hungary. The story tracks Kracha’s arrival from Hungary to America, as he walked from New York to White Haven, his later migration to the steel mills of Braddock, Pennsylvania, where he begins to work in America. Although he is hardworking, his imprudent financial speculations and an extramarital affair with a woman induce an ultimate downfall to him. Mary Kracha, who’s the daughter of George Kracha, is the second generation in Kracha’s family. She finds a job in a wealthy family when she is fifteen, then she marries to Mike Dobrejcak, who is a steelworker. Unfortunately, the inhuman working conditions in the mills lead to the death of Mike. After his death, Mary manages to support her children. One of her children, Dobie Dobrejcak, is the third generation in the story, wants to end the inhumane working conditions of the mills which caused the death of his father. In the 1920s, he determined not to be sacrificed to the mills, later became heavily active and involved in the successful unionization movement of the steel industry during the Great Depression in order to seek fair and reasonable working conditions for the workers. The story begins with George Kracha, who leaves his young wife and family to board a ship that is setting sail from a Hungarian village to America for twelve days, and seeks a better life in America. He leaves after getting his brother-in-law’s address in America and some money for the train ride to Pennsylvania. “It may be that he hoped he was likewise leaving behind the endless poverty and oppression which were the birthrights of a Slovak peasant in Franz Josef’s empire.” (Bell, P.3). On the way to America, George spends the money for his train ride to Pennsylvania, he later spends most of his money on a birthday party and attempting to impress Zuska, a beautiful woman who is married. As the party costs George most of his money, he later finds himself in New York with only fifty cents which is not enough to pay for a train ticket in his pocket. Given his circumstances, he must walk the entire way and follow the train tracks from New York to Pennsylvania, where his sister and her husband live. He walks in the day and sleeps on the haystack at night. He begs for food when he is starving, asks directions when he is lost, and requests rides when he is exhausted. Also, he meets Joe Dubik, who becomes his best friend, urges him to come work in the Steel mills when he arrives in America. As George’s relatives and Joe work for the railroad in White Haven, George secures a job working for the railroad as well. With the start of the period of industrialization consuming the nation, massive amounts of cheap unskilled laborers like George immigrated to America, then shifts occupations and begins working in the steel mills at Braddock. The first job of George Kracha in America is to help the maintenance of the railroad at White Haven. During the summer time, he becomes a farmer before the seed time. Life at White Haven was unstable and depended on the circumstances of the railroad company. The wages could be up to twenty-five buds a month when it is good time. Otherwise, the wages could be low as nine cents per hour when the bad time comes. As the company keeps moving the workers from place to place, the Krachas eventually settle in a few places before moving away from the railroad altogether. Kracha and his relatives were employed to work for long hours with very low wages under the filthy and dangerous environment in the factories. “Kracha worked from six to six, seven days a week, one week on day turn, one week on night. The constant shifting of turns made settlement into an energy-saving routine impossible; just when he was getting used to sleeping at night he had to learn to sleep during the day.” (Bell, P.46). Working long hours cause short-tempers and accidents constantly, and the low pay merely sustains Kracha’s living. The Krachas try their hands at different activities in order to even out his earnings. George’s wife, Elena, and his daughter, Mary rent additional rooms and begin to take in boarders to supplement George’s income. Though the three generations of male workers in the narrative had the common occupation, they took different attitudes towards the problem of becoming “Americanized”. The first generation- George Kracha, despite the inhumane and harsh working conditions were challenging, like other men in the mill, are in the hope of a better life in America and “saving enough money to go back in triumph to their old countries.” (Bell, P.48). After Joe’s death in a steel mill accident, George recognizes that he must own a business to become successful, and so he opens his own butcher shop. The next generation of Slovak’s family, George’s son in law, Mike Dobrejcak, a steel worker, also encountered the hardships of working that Kracha faced in the factories. But starting from Mike, the newer generation, begins to feel that it is necessary to voice and fight for his beliefs which is a better life for immigrants, especially as he becomes involved in politics, despite George’s assertions. He tries to think like Americans, even though he cannot vote initially. To fight for his beliefs and make a change to affect those beliefs, he eventually goes to school to learn how to read and write in English. Later, Mike becomes a citizen and votes for Eugene Debs to exercise his political freedoms despite the pressure of his employer and the advice from Mike who tells him not to get involved. Regardless of the desires of corporation in America to impact workers’ decisions, Mike is able to fight for his political beliefs and want societal changes that will help immigrants have a fairer share in life. The third generation, also the last generation in the story, Dobie Dobrejcak, who insists on creating a difference in the way the immigrant workers were being handled. Since Dobie and other workers come to realize that the steel company is simply padding the union with its own people, thus creating a puppet union that has no other objective than the objective or the bosses. By not making a choice, he effectively makes a choice for change (Bell, P.288). The union movement, which eventually wins out over the steel industry, and establishes fair wages and working conditions for workers in both factories and steel mills. Besides, Dobie joins the Congress of Industrial Organizations in its fight to bring down the company union and the people who support it. He takes comfort in the mindset of workers to ensure the improvement of the steelworkers. Through political activity, Dobie is given a voice and a way to act against the injustice to seek a better life of workers. During the industrial period in America, married women needed to find some sorts of job to supplement the family’s income, in addition to raising their children, and taking care of the house. George’s wife, Elena, needs to work as a boarder to compensate the family’s income, such as paying the expensive house rent. At the same time, she needs to take good care of her children and finish her housework even though she is sick on her bed. George’s daughter, Mary, begins to work for a wealthy family as a domestic servant when she is fifteen and stay there until she marries to Mike Dobrejcak. Like her mother, Mary also takes in boarders to supplement the family’s income. Her life is tragically changed when Mike is killed in a steel mill accident. She only receives seventy-five-dollars in compensation from the steel mill company for her husband’s death. With only one income, Mary is forced to try and make ends meet as best she can. Besides working outside of her family, she needs to manage her housework and raise her children. These jobs are even harder than working in the steel mills as she needs to work as a boarder and a mother to take of her children without taking a rest. As a new immigrant to the United States, Out of This Furnace is a realistic narrative story to me, and it is very easy to empathize the characters in the story for me. I would strongly recommend this book to new immigrants like me. Because it could be helpful to learn not to give up from the story for the new immigrants who’ve just arrived in this land and felt upset and complained about the difficulties that they encountered. Though it might be easier to live in America in now compared to the old days when during the industrialization, some prejudged and injustice problems like racial discrimination were still existing. One time, I quitted my job because I was mocked and insulted by a customer in my workplace when I talked English not fluently. After reading this book, I think instead of giving up easily at that time, I should learn from my mistakes and be grateful about what I have today compared to the old immigrants like Krachas. They were facing much more problems and getting more difficult to earn a living in the past than me. In terms of racism, Dobie was called as the “Hunky” as a disrespectful word to people like Slovaks. Also, to make a living and hope for a change, George endured unfair and inhumane treatments and working conditions to work under a dangerous environment in the steel mills. The endurance and survival became their motto to overcome the difficulties and downs when they had troubles and problem.