Thomas Bell’s book “Out of this Furnace” is a good presentation of five generations of Hungarian family immigrants who moved into the US in the 19th century. One of the characters in the book, George Kracha came in 1881 and settled in Pennsylvania, and started working in a steel mill. For this work, he was paid ten cents per hour and there were many problems related to the kind of job he did. The man, who was full of hope and promise that the riches and freedom in America would present a better life to the immigrants from all over the globe, was disappointed. His grandson John Dobrejcak was the major force that united his coworkers less those 50 years after into an association of organized workers. Working hard and being paid just a few cents are some of the hardships that immigrant families go through and made John understand that he was not an American and there was no pride in being American. He was a product of the steel furnace and that was it. This affected the self-esteem of these immigrants as they lacked the sense of belonging and lack of pride in being Americans.
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Opinions of America
The immigrant families in the book had the same opinions of America as co-immigrants-they left one town with bad living conditions in search of a better one. Kracha had hoped that he was leaving behind the oppressions of severe poverty which had been seen as a birthright of the peasants from Slovak. As he came to America, he realized that he was not leaving poverty behind. He had spent a lot of money on a lady’s birthday party on the ship. Nevertheless, he had high hopes of making a great life in the US but he was completely unaware of what the future had in store for him. Later, he was not impressed when he realizes that what he thought America would offer him is not what he got. Even though he was in America, he could not feel the privileges that come with being an American. It was until he went to the White Haven where he had a secure job and a roof over his head that appreciated living in the US. His grandson had different feelings. He took it to be a melting pot of economic hardship and racial repression.
How to be American
Another character whose idea of what it is to be American changes drastically is Johnnie. Some things disappointed him like racial discrimination and financial and societal injustices that were existent throughout America. A change in his opinion comes he interacts with people of the First Ward. He understands that the racial and social differences are not direcf6ted towards the Slovaks as a whole. Every group that arrives in America lacking the capability to speak good English, poor, and running away from bad conditions in their country will all be treated in the same manner, until they fit into the society. He realizes that his people have made efforts to achieve the pride that will allow them to be accepted in American society. He also realizes that racism will always be there but it’s upon the people to fight it at every turn. His anger and bitterness reduce and in his place, there is a feeling of pride resulting in self-assurance. To a certain extent, he understands that ‘Hunky’ was just one word in the whole shameful dictionary of labels whose use is to spread persistent disgrace and differences until the society realizes that it was as unbeneficial as it was dangerous.
Struggles of immigrants
These patterns of struggles that immigrants face persisting in the book and are handed down from one generation to another. Throughout all these problems, a different group of immigrants always came in to replace those who had worked hard and risen through the social standards. Like to Johnnie, being American was not all about your place of birth but how you thought about felt about some things. It was defined by the availability of freedom of speech, gender equality, and formulating the same law for the poor and the rich people as well as treating the people you like in the same way the people you don’t like. That’s what being American entails. Many of those in the First Ward underwent so many hardships but they nobly dealt with them with pride. It was a special way of dealing with hard work and hardships that strengthened his character that made Johnnie understand what being made in the US was all about. It is the evidence of hardworking, incorruptible, determined, and forthright immigrants with a proud character that showed Johnnie what it meant to be an American.
This book has demonstrated the problems encountered by immigrants while fighting to make a better life for themselves in the United States of America. Thomas Bell’s explanations of working in a steel mill are very clear in this text and no reader can forget them. It historically and uniquely gives the struggles and the determinations that immigrant families went through as they tried to make it in America.
Thomas Bell. Out of This Furnace, Pittsburgh; University of Pittsburgh Press. 1993. 424 pages