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Out of this Furnace” Book Review
The book is about three generations of a Slovak family in the United States. Djuro Kracha a Hungarian immigrates to the United States in 1881 and settled in White Haven, Pennsylvania. Kracha’s wife. Elena joined him with their three children to settle in Pennsylvania. Mary who is the oldest daughter to Kracha gets married to Mike Dobrejcak a Slovakian immigrant working in steel mills like his father-in-law. Sadly, Mike dies and in a work accident and Mary following the stress that came with her husband’s death, she gets ill and they are housed in a sanitarium with the children. Johny who is Mary’s eldest son joins the labor movement as an organizer and he becomes critical in the development and acceptance of the national workers’ unions in the United States of America (Bell, 1976).
George Kracha’s Experiences as a late 19th century’s Immigrant:
George Kracha was like any other immigrant to the United States in the late 19th century. Kracha was born in Hungary where his family was extremely poor and oppressed as it was the case for any Slovak peasant in Franz Josef’s empire. Like other people who moved to America in the late 19th century, Kracha would be hosted by his brother-in-law who was working for the railroad. The demand for labor in the United States at the time was growing and Kracha was in the wave that brought immigrants to America at the time (Bell, 1976).
Like most American immigrants in the 19th century, Kracha went to America using a boat. He had been warned against trusting strangers or fellow immigrants as some were dangerous and they could rob and kill him. He was keen to observe the warnings that he had been given, but no one reminded him that he had to be careful whenever he took whisky. It is as a result of alcohol that Kracha fell for Zuska who consumed the money that he was supposed to use for transport from the port to White Haven, Pennsylvania. Zuska made Kracha a victim of a tough journey to the White Haven as the fifty cents that he remained with could not pay for his train ticket. He walked through rail tracks to White Haven making the journey long and risky as it was the case for most immigrants at the time (Bell, 1976).
The work-life of Kracha and his experiences:
When Kracha arrived at White Haven, he was accommodated by his sister and brother-in-law Andrej and Francka Sedlar. He got the first job with the railroad through Andrej. He did not work with the railroad for long as he got tired of the frequent relocation in the railroad job. Since he had already settled in Pennsylvania, he found the need to stick around and as a result, he joined steel mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania. However, Kracha’s survival as a worker in a steel mill was cut short following a violent strike by steelworkers in Homestead. Kracha left with Elena and their children to settle in Braddock. He was tired of the harsh working environment that claimed the life of his friend Dubik. The work environment was extremely dangerous and risky for workers (Bell, 1976).
Kracha gets tired of employment and he bought a butcher shop for business. Zuska reappeared when Kracha had already settled in business. After the death of Elena, Kracha married Zuska since her husband was dead. Kracha becomes a drunkard and at some point, he was jailed for beating Zuska. While in jail he loses his home and business as Zuska disappears. After jail, he returns to the steel mill in Braddock and he is forced to seek refuge in the home of a local widow. He loses contact with his children where Francka and Andrej take Alice and Anna while Mary is taken by a wealthy family as a nursemaid (Bell, 1976).
Kracha did not embrace America and the life of the Americans. In Braddock, Kracha realized that fellow Slovaks divided themselves depending on the time they had lived in America. Such parties did not find value in joining Americans who lived in the high social places in Pennsylvania. Kracha did not find value in joining Americans while there were people from his origin. As a result, he opted for the life of Slovakians and he exposed his family to the practices of the parties from his country. He did not bother to know more about American culture and was not ready to learn. Instead of fighting for a better salary and joining unions, Kracha opted to change jobs (Bell, 1976).
Following frustrations that came as a result of being a Slovak, Mike sought to Americanize himself. Mike endeared him to his boss through who he learned to read and write English and he studies U.S. history. However, despite the effort to learn the American culture, Mike could not be accepted as an American and could not get a job in equal status as other Americans. He was treated as fellow Slovaks being denied better chances as it would happen for Native Americans. As a foreign, he could not join a workers union denying him an opportunity to pursue any leadership position as a unionist (Bell, 1976).
However, John “Dobie” Dobrejcak earns an American status for he was born in America. He was privileged than Mike and Kracha and he could enjoy all the benefits that an American enjoyed. Although Mike and Kracha could not undertake skilled jobs, Dobie could work as skilled workers. Also, Dobie could join workers union. The privilege of being Americanized allowed him to become a union leader. Dobie for the rights of the Slovaks who were previously considered to be green horns. He fought for the equal representation of the people despite their origin or culture (Bell, 1976).
Lives of Female Characters:
Elena was Kracha wife and mother to Francka, Alice and Anna. She was left home when Kracha left for America. She was a housewife at home and in America as she did not engage in any duty away from home. Francka was Kracha’s sister who was married to Andraj Sedlar. Like her mother, she did not have major responsibilities in America, but looked after her family and sometimes looked after her nieces Anna and Alice. She undertook family duties while serving as a housewife. Francka sustained her family but had a challenge with the two sons who had become drunkards. Zuska was married to John Mihula who she went to the United States with at the time she met Kracha in the boat. After the death of her husband, she got married to Kracha after the death of Elena. However, Zuska’s marriage with Kracha did not last for long as he turned violent after taking alcohol and he beat Zuska. Mary who was Kracha’s daughter became a nursemaid after her father was arrested. She did not get married. Julie was Dobie’s confidant who would be considered a critical pillar to Dobie’s wellbeing as she cautioned him whenever he seemed to make poor decisions (Bell, 1976).
Opinion on the book:
The book gives an account of what immigrants to America experienced. It outlines the dangers and risks that they had to withstand and how they overcame them. It is significant in passing information about how America was in the late 19th century. It outlines the situation in the country and activities that were taking place. Through the book, one understands the challenges that immigrants had to withstand and how they were expected to realize the greater potential in their undertakings. The issue of American culture is equally paramount in the book and it would be a suitable topic for any individual who wishes to study and understand various cultures across the globe. I would recommend the book to anyone who intends to understand the history of American immigrants and Americanization. However, it would be a sensitive book for people who would be regarded as pro-Americans as they may use its content to portray the power of their country by being manipulative and abusive to non-American Natives.
The book narrates a story of three generations of a family and explains how the family was accepted as part of America. It highlights that in the late 19th century, immigrants were hardly accepted as part of American culture. They suffered to secure jobs and settle like the Americans. It was difficult for any immigrants to access the privileges reserved for Americans. Immigrants provided labor for the still mills and undertook most of the casual jobs. There was no opportunity for skilled labor until one qualified as an American. As such, the book outlines the challenges of immigrants in their bid to be recognized as Americans.
Bell, T. (1976). [orig. publ. 1941]. Out of This Furnace: A Novel of Immigrant Labor in America.Reference