Out of This Furnace Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 56-page guide for “Out of This Furnace” by Thomas Bell includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering four parts, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Hope for Change and the Harsh Reality for Immigrants.
Out of This Furnace is a multi-generational narrative about a Slovak family’s immigration to America. As an immigrant narrative focusing on three separate-yet-intertwined generations, the story looks at the tenuous journey of the family as it makes its way from Hungary to America, including all the ups and downs associated with immigrant life as the Kracha family’s lives evolve along with the so-called American Dream.
The narrative begins with George “Djuro” Kracha, who boards a ship that is setting sail from his Hungarian village to America. Through negligence, George spends the money he has and finds himself in New York with only fifty cents to his name. Given his circumstances, he then walks the entire way from New York to White Haven, Pennsylvania, where his relatives live. George’s relatives work for the railroad there, and in time, George comes to secure a job working for the railroad as well.
After a time, George shifts occupations and, like many of his friends and family, starts working in the steel mills at Braddock. Though he has come to America for a better life, George finds that working in the steel mills is excruciating, with long hours and poor pay. To compensate for his earnings, the Krachas try their hands at different activities, such as George’s wife taking in boarders to supplement his income and, after a time, George opening his own business. The business, however, proves a futile effort, and George ends up losing everything in the endeavor.
The narrative then shifts to the second generation. George’s daughter, Mary, marries a man named Mike Dobrejcaks, who also works in the steel mills. Like her mother, Mary also takes boarders to supplement the family’s income. Her life is tragically changed when Mike is killed in a steel mill accident. With only one income, Mary is forced to try and make ends meet as best she can. The reader is also provided a glimpse into the unfair treatment of steel mill workers when, upon Mike’s death, Mary only receives seventy-five-dollars in compensation from the steel mill company.
Mary and Mike’s children make up the third generation of the Kracha family saga. Dobie Dobrejcaks is the main character of this narrative arc, and the reader sees a marked difference in Dobie’s life as compared to his grandfather’s life, highlighting how Americanized the newer generations are becoming. Technology, for instance, is coming to the forefront, and so the lives of average Americans are changing along with these developments. Though Dobie has it a bit easier than previous generations, the steel mill workers are still dogged by low wages and long hours. Like previous generations, Dobie finds himself in a position of also having to make ends meet somehow, a situation which is only exacerbated by the onset of the Great Depression. To this end, he provides illegal services to people whose power has been cut off for non-payment.
As the narrative progresses, the reader sees a more committed take on the rights of the steel mill workers. The Labor Movement comes to the fore, and issues of collective bargaining via unions and the right to organize, as well as workers’ rights in general, are addressed. The narrative addresses the beginnings of this struggle, with Dobie taking an active role in organizing the steel workers, despite reprisals from his employers.
Out of This Furnace addresses several themes in its multi-generational tale. Perhaps the most apparent is endurance and survival, as seen in George Kracha’s initial journey to America, and his family’s subsequent trials and tribulations in making a new, better life for themselves. George endures laborious, dangerous work in the steel mills to make ends meet, and his wife is even forced to open their home to boarders. Their daughter, Mary, must also take on boarders, while her son, Dobie, resorts to illegal work just to eke out a living. Through it all, the family shows how endurance and hard work can ensure not only survival, but a workable way of life that grows easier in time through ingenuity, technology and worker regulations.
The American Dream is another theme running though the narrative. George leaves Hungary for America, and works in both the railroad industry and the steel mills, all to have a better way of life. As it turns out, the family must endure a lot of setbacks in establishing themselves in a new land. Their ingenuity, however, as well as their entrepreneurial spirit, are not daunted, and they continue to seek out the dream of living peaceably, freely and honestly.
Events such as the Great Depression and the Labor Movement highlight how the Kracha family could have given up when the odds seemed against them, but continued to fight for their dream of survival and flourishing in their adopted land. Dobie even goes to extremes, providing illegal wiring services for those who have had their power cut off. This act alone symbolized the indomitable human spirit as it fights against all odds, thus setting a tone of hope for the Kracha family in general and the narrative as a whole.