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Female Immigrants in Bell’s “Out of This Furnace”

Many social forces shaped the United States at different epochs. European migration between the end of the 1800s and the middle of the 1900s was the event that cannot be neglected in the American history because it may explain current social inequalities and concerns. Out of This Furnace is not only a story about immigrants who came to the United States for new opportunities and better lives. The intentions of the author of this novel, Thomas Bell, have a deeper impact. Out of This Furnace is a story about human life from the perspective of three generations.

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It is not only a biography of several people. It is the growth of one family through the prism of such factors as the American Dream, steel society, and personal needs. Despite the fact that people expected some positive outcomes and safe futures from their migration to the United States, the characters described in the novel tell about their disappointments and fragility of the promised land. To understand the essence of female migration, it is necessary to look at it relying on the Kracha’s experience. Out of This Furnace is the struggle of both male and female migrants and their intentions to overcome poverty, to deal with social and economic inequality, and not to lose hope through generations in order to survive, work, and have happy families in America.

American Dream and Immigrants

The story of one of the main characters in the novel Out of This Furnace, George Kracha, began in 1881 when the idea of European migration was a cherished solution for millions of people. On the one hand, migrants, both men and women, believed that they could change their lives and achieve certain improvements. For example, leaving his family in Slovakia and going to America, Kracha “hoped he was likewise leaving behind the endless poverty and oppression” (Bell 3). In their turn, Americans believed that the wave of immigration could shape American national identity (Polland). In fact, in the 1800s, both sides of the immigration process were consumed with an idea of the Great American Dream. It was believed that the government had enough power to support its people and immigrants. The American Dream aimed at protecting every person’s opportunity and promoting happiness (Amadeo). However, the truth was far from what all those dictionaries and professors said.

In the novel, it is also possible to find evidence of this definition and its controversy. When an old woman “whose hands lay lifelessly in her lap, and whose feet looked like misshapen lumps” explained how she had been seeing American during the last thirty years, “work, work, day and night, cooking, scrubbing, washing” (Bell 267). Her monologue proved that many female immigrants came to America believing that they could avoid poverty and challenges. They followed their husbands, had to work under the same hard conditions, and lived with boarders. For example, when George’s wife, Elena, came to America, she cried a lot and received promises that she could get everything she needed in good time (Bell 18). The female immigrants’ experience was far from the promises of the American Dream. In fact, promises, hopes, and hard work were everything they could get.

Female Migration through Generations

It is wrong to believe that the immigrants’ situation did not undergo some changes with time. The first cases of European migration were characterized by big hopes, incredible trust, and enthusiasm. Women wanted to believe in their husbands and provide their children with new opportunities, including safe homes, education, and health. However, the first generation of immigrants made one huge mistake: women, as well as men, were not aware of the conditions under which they had to work and develop. They were eager to start their own business, invest last money, and lost everything. Immigrant families were in numerous debts and no chances to earn a living, just survive.

However, despite the existing problems and financial challenges, the American Dream was a synonym for promotion and an idea of becoming wealthy (“American Dream in History”). Between the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, the gender composition of European migrants varied from 36 to 48% (Donato and Gabaccia 88). Such statistics proved that immigration changed through generations. Though such issues as Americanization, native traditions, cultural varieties, and gender roles were still problematic in society, female immigrants got better economic and political support from the government.

In comparison to her mother, Elena, the representative of the first generation where it was possible to make ends using pension, Mary, as the representative of the second generation, was able to support her children and pay for her treatment. The third generation of immigrants could use such achievements as technological progress and reduce the hours and volumes of the work at the mills. Women of the last generation established new standards and defended their freedoms believing that their parents and grandparents did a lot to provide them with all necessary rights. Women of the third generation did not want to work in someone’s houses. They want to have their houses for themselves (Bell 368). It seems that, with time, the representatives of different generations, moved from obligations and actions to new demands and high expectations.

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Male Immigrants

In comparison to women who usually followed their men and focused on caring for their children, the conditions under which male immigrants had to work differed considerably. Men worked in mills and dealt with such fields as mining, rail, steel, and factories. The working hours for the representatives of the first generation were very bad. They did not have rights and freedoms. They did not know how to tell about their needs and desires. All they could do was to work and earn a living to provide their families with a chance to see America and become its part.

Compared to women who had to follow the rules and ask for support, men had to take steps and try something to open new doors and change their lives. Men were responsible for the progress of their families when women had to support home traditions and cultural background. Finally, male immigration at different stages was characterized by different goals. First, it was necessary to earn something and create a basis to prove the personal dignity and rights to exist. Second, the task was not to lose what had been earned by the first generation and clarify if new opportunities could be achieved. Third, it was the time to ask for improvements. The aim of the third generation was to decrease the level of human sacrifice, ask for better working conditions, and fight against discrimination. Women could not achieve such goals being at home and giving birth to their children. Men had the opportunities and could seek justice in their workplace.

Impact of Migration

The story of the woman with lifeless hands and legs can be applied to male immigrants in the first and second generations. European people got opportunities to work and earn. Though they had negative attitudes to the conditions under which they had to work long hours, they did not find it necessary to demonstrate their concerns and ask for something better. The third generation of immigrants was full of energy and support to understand that they could change something as soon as they start talking. Though such events as the Great Depression or world wars created new challenges and extreme conditions which provoked changes and migration (Roos and Zaun 1579), people were ready and could use the experience of their past generations on how to deal with problems. However, the examples of such characters as Alice or Anna tell about how safe and sustainable immigrants’ lives can be with time. They did not find it necessary to prove something or strive for something new. It was enough for a woman to find a husband, have a baby, and follow family traditions.

Out of This Furnace contains the stories of several women whose lives were influenced by migration in different ways. In Elena’s case, migration brought negative emotions and outcomes to the relationships with her husband who demonstrated her neither love nor affection. Mary’s life was better in comparison to her mother’s because she managed to find a good husband and care love through the ages. Julie’s family was also founded on love and respect.


In general, female migration to the United States was closely connected and explained in terms of family relationships and the desire to have better and safer futures. Poverty, inequalities, and the lack of opportunities made people leave their homes and faced new challenges in new countries. The story of the Kracha’s family is a story of migration and its development through generations that shaped modern American society.

Works Cited

Amadeo, Kimberly. “What Is the American Dream? The History That Made It Possible.” The Balance. 2017, Web.

“American Dream in History.” The American Dream, n.d.m. Web.

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Bell, Thomas. Out of This Furnace. University of Pittsburg Press, 1941.

Donato, Katharine, M., and Donna Gabaccia. Gender and International Migration. Russell Sage Foundation, 2015.

Polland, Annie. “Immigrants Then, Immigrants Now: A Shared American Dream.” Huffpost. 2017, Web.

Roos, Christof, and Natascha Zaun. “The Global Economic Crisis as a Critical Juncture? The Crisis’s Impact on Migration Movements and Policies in Europe and the U.S.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol. 42, no. 10, 2016, pp. 1579-1589, Web.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Female Immigrants in Bell's "Out of This Furnace"." December 26, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Female Immigrants in Bell's "Out of This Furnace"'. 26 December.

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