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