Sunday, March 15, 2009

i thank my lucky stars . . .

that i didn't grow up in the early 1900's.

seriously. i just read two books in a row that took place during that era, and boy were those times rough. first, i read the jungle by upton sinclair, and then, a tree grows in brooklyn by betty smith (thanks to my sweet mother-in-law who gave it to me because she knew i'd been wanting to read it).

both books were very good, although i definitely enjoyed a tree grows in brooklyn much more. however different these books are from each other, each book, i feel, clearly depicted the turn of the century, and the trials that many immigrants faced as they came to america and tried to make a name and a home for themselves in this "free" land. "free," not free, because although they were given opportunities to work, to get an education, and to make a new life for themselves and their families, so many of them were literally prisoners of poverty, with little hopes of rising above it. things like education were free and available, but only if you could afford to let your children go to school instead of help work and contribute money so that the family could pay rent and have enough food to eat.



the jungle is an eye-opening walk-through life in the chicago meat packing factories. and it is appalling. take this excerpt for example:

"There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it . . . These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together."



gross. and the whole book's full of stuff like that. it seems crazy to think how much our country has changed. to think that such circumstances were tolerated and that the way "capitalists" could take advantage of these poor immigrants is sickening. but then to think of the perseverance, work ethic, and hope that these people had is even more inspiring than their circumstances are appalling. regardless of where they came from or what they were going through, parents kept their children's and grandchildren's futures in mind and kept working and working and working. katie nolan in a tree grows in brooklyn practically broke her back scrubbing floors just so that her kids could graduate from elemantary school. and she knew that eventually her posterity would would not have to struggle the way she did, and her parents did, and all those before them.



anyway. i'll stop rambling, but really. i feel so lucky to live now and to be able to enjoy the luxuries of the 21st century. and i also feel extremely grateful for my predecessors who came over from sweden (and france and maybe england and norway???) and worked for the freedom and opportunity that america offered.

oh and ps. i totally recommend a tree grows in brooklyn. it's really a touching story, and i thoroughly enjoyed it. the jungle, however, well, it's good but i only recommend it if you think that you'll be able to stomach it . . .

11 comments:

Kaedi said...

Okay, this has nothing to do with the post (which was great, btw), but WOW! I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog!!! We heard last night was a blast, and we're bummed to have missed it. Sydney was sick and would have terrorized a sitter to death. At any rate, so happy to see you guys blogging!!

Kit Kat said...

I love hearing about good book recommendations (even though I have a hard time prioritizing reading in my life...I can at least IMAGINE reading your book).

At BYU I took an American History class, and when we were learning about the early 1900's, our teacher gave us an assignment to go and pack peaches at the cannery for 3 hours. It was AWFUL and monotonous. But it gave a small perspective of what those people had to go through every day of their lives.

ron said...

I am so glad you enjoyed "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Although it has been at least 12 years since I last read it, I do remember that Francie Nolan's future looks bright at the end of the book. Yes, I do admire her mother, Katie for her hard work and toil.
A purpose for sending the book is that it took place in Williamsburg-Brooklyn...and...since you and Peter are living there, I decided to reread Potok's "The Chosen", which also takes place in Williamburg. This reading, by the way, is more enjoyable the 3rd time around because I'm more keyed into the 2 parenting styles. I admire so much Reuven's father who is warm and full of compassion as opposed to Reb Saunders, Danny's father who only spoke to his son when they studied the Talmud.
Peter, you should read this before leaving Brooklyn for another glimpse of Jewish heritage and religion. This is one of my all time favorite books. I'll probably reread "My Name is Asher Lev" too.

ron said...

Last post by Shauna

embily said...

yes, shauna, it was really fun reading and recognizing all of the streets and areas that francie was talking about. i actually think that there are probably some sections of williamsburg that aren't all that much different from how they were in 1900!

petey said...

yeah. even down to the penny candy stores and the Jew rye bread

mom/shauna said...

Is there a Lee Street or Lee Avenue nearby? That street is mentioned in "The Chosen."

petey said...

yeah. lee avenue is right by our church. nick and i actually ran through neighborhood in "The Chosen" the day we ran across the brooklyn bridge back to williamsburg. We got lost somewhere right around lee avenue.

ron said...

Maybe you can show us Lee Avenue when we see you in May. I'd love to get a 'feel' for the book.
~ Mom

Alisa Larson said...

Yeah, you have a blog! You should have told me woman!
That is so gross about the meat. I may go vegan now. :-)

Lorraine said...

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my absolute faves! We have The Jungle, but I haven't read it yet. Maybe now I'll dive in thanks to your amazing reviews...