Capitalism in “Out of This Furnace” by Thomas Bell


Capitalism is one of the most effective forms of governing at the present moment. However, it has not been that beneficial for the first wave immigrants who moved to the United States of America to find better living standards and conditions in general. The book, written by Thomas Bell that is called “Out of This Furnace,” describes a multigenerational story of one family that moved to the continent of America from Hungary back when the country across the Atlantic was not as prosperous as it is at the present moment. The following paper will present an essay that is intended to discuss the structure and general ideas of capitalism based on the phrase of the book’s main character. Capitalism is the topic of endless discussions among politicians of all times – some considered this phenomenon to be unfair to all citizens of a country, whereas other people supported this idea by arguing that such a governance method can open unlimited opportunities to each person.

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To begin with, it is necessary to mention that the further context will be based on the following quote from the book called “Out of This Furnace” by Thomas Bell: “Dobie reflected, they might try finding a satisfactory substitute for bosses and bossism. An end to the intolerable state of affairs under which some men had virtual power of life and death over others was long overdue” (Bell 409). As can be seen from the context delivered by Bell’s protagonist, Dobie was talking about his attitude towards capitalism and the fact that its main ideas were not beneficial for every inhabitant of the continent. The main character was unpleased with the mentality of local people who had some businesses or occupied important positions in governmental or other bureaucratic institutions.

It is a well-known fact that all countries of what is now called the European Union were not used to capitalism. Instead, they were satisfied with their jobs for rich people who owned lands back when tsars were in the rule. Therefore, the protagonist and his family from Hungary were not satisfied with the conditions they had to face in the United States of America. Subconsciously, these immigrants to the country of liberty wanted to have better lives without having to work much. They were seeking the American Dream that they could not reach living in European territories back in the 19th century. Hence the phrase of Dobie could be influenced by the mentality of individuals who were used to rely on their government. It appears that individuals from Hungary could not decide many problems or inconveniences due to their politicians who did not want to consider the desires and wishes of the country’s inhabitants several centuries ago.

When Dobie’s grandfather, George Kracha, first moved from his motherland to America, he had to work long hours at two jobs for minor payments. Later, he founded his own business that failed. Perhaps, the failures of previous generations had an adverse impact on the mind of Dobie, who could not see the positive sides of capitalism. Indeed, the protagonist had almost no motivation to stay and develop in the United States of America as he was discouraged by the idea that so-called bossism is prevalent here. The main character wanted to be independent of all these things that were necessary for people to survive back then. Therefore, his skeptical statement mentioned in the previous paragraph of the essay cannot be considered conscious and rational.

The protagonist of the book, just like thousands of other immigrants, had to endure many issues that made him so skeptical. One of the aspects of capitalism Dobie could not stand the lack of clarity. Immigrants had to follow rules that were constantly changed, which often had an adverse effect on their lives. For instance, one of the reasons for quitting was this change of rules. One of the characters questions Dobie’s decision to stay stressing the intolerable situation, “how do we know they won’t change the rates again without saying anything” (Bell 265). Capitalists deprived immigrants of their basic right to make decisions that could affect their lives. Poor people did not have any tools to make the rich less focused on profits. People often had no options and had to work long hours without even understanding what was expecting them the following day. The absence of any power made immigrants dislike capitalism that was a very unfair system at that period.

The life of females was even more difficult as they had to face discrimination and the lack of power at different levels. Women had fewer options to find employment, and they did not receive as much money. Simultaneously, they had to take care of their families and households. Even when a woman remained at home and was a housewife, it was a hard job, and no one seemed to appreciate it. An old woman Dorta was talking to was one of the victims of capitalism in the country and in her own family. She was disempowered as she had only obligations with no rights. She claimed that “work, work, day and night, cooking, scrubbing, washing” was all she “saw of America” (Bell 367). The woman emphasized that she expected to come to a country where she would have some financial security and a decent life. However, instead of money “enough for two lives” she received work and hardships enough for three lives (Bell 367). The woman, like any other immigrant female, could not even dream about doing what she wanted to do as she was to think about her family and do the chores.

It is noteworthy that immigrants of the second and third waves had simpler lives as their relatives had developed a certain background for them. Zuska was an example of such less hard life. The young woman came to the country and managed to find a man who loved her and tried to make her life easier. He showed his affection and respect. However, this woman’s life was still full of hardships as she still had to perform one role. She was to make her husband happy. The author shows that Zuska did not mind that role, but it is also clear that many women like Elena could want more but often received less in their family lives. It is quite illustrative that Kracha chose Zuska for many reasons and her gratitude was one of them. Every time they went to bed, “she never failed to express her gratitude” that made his self-esteem mount “by the day” (Bell 102). The man needed this kind of relationship to forget about his problems and disempowerment outside of his house.

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As it can be seen from Dobie’s quotation, he thought that the age of capitalism was over and that the entire idea of such a governance form was neither practical nor efficient for inhabitants of the United States of America. It is essential to state that capitalism could not demonstrate its full potential for centuries due to slavery and wars in the USA that limited the country’s citizens’ freedoms and even rights. Once Abraham Lincoln started to make tremendous steps into the new life of America, the quality of people’s lives slowly started to increase decade after decade.

It all came to the point when people started to realize all the benefits that they had only because of capitalism. This structure of rule allows every person to be occupied in the sphere that he or she has a passion for, which makes people happier and leads to the point of job satisfaction. Moreover, America was the first country that made the establishment of various businesses its tradition. Moreover, local people were encouraged to establish small companies and expand as they paid a tremendous sum of money to the government in taxes and received worthy salaries as well. This is what attracts contemporary immigrants to America.

If I were in Dobie’s place, I would think probably the same about capitalism as he did because he could not see what benefits this form of governance could bring to his grandchildren and even children. However, I have the opposite point of view today. In my opinion, capitalism brought many innovations to this world as citizens of the USA were not limited to their hobbies and interests that could potentially enrich them both morally and financially. Due to that, contemporary citizens can buy series automobiles, computers, planes, and other inventions created by their ancestors in America.

The author of the book seems to have had the viewpoint that was somewhere in-between. Bell was not as pessimistic as Dobie, but he was not as optimistic as I am at present. The author was born into a family of immigrants, so he knew what it was like to face discrimination and have limited resources. These experiences, as well as true stories of many people the author knew, made him write the novel that can be seen as the description of the dark side of the American capitalism of the 19th and 20th centuries. At the same time, Thomas Bell did not provide explicit criticism of the economic model as he must have understood the benefits of the system. The author chose to describe the life of immigrants as it was. He tried to stress that although people had to endure various hardships, they still remained humans who cherished major values and morals. Importantly, Bell also revealed some of the vices of these people who were not saints. This precision and truthfulness make the book that insightful.

In conclusion, it is possible to state that the book under discussion is a valuable source of information concerning the development of capitalism in the USA. Thomas Bell describes people’s sorrows, hopes, joys, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It is possible to have different views on this economic system. However, all people should know about the price many people paid to create the American society of the present day. Immigrants who came for better lives saw nothing but hard work and a constant search for resources. It is vital to learn the lesson and look at the contemporary American society through the lens of such people’s worldviews. It is clear that no one can discriminate people or deprive them of their basic rights.

Work Cited

Bell, Thomas. Out of the Furnace: A Novel of Immigrant Labor in America. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976.

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