Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice
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Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
 
A Life for a Life

By Robert Herrick

(American novelist, professor in the University of Chicago; 1868–1938. In this novel a young American, hungering for success and about to marry the daughter of a great captain of industry, is taken by a strange man, “the bearded Anarch,” and shown the horrors of American industrialism)
 
AND thus this strange pilgrimage, like another descent into purgatory and even unto hell, continued,—the shabby bearded Anarch leading his companion from factory, warehouse, and mill to mine and railroad and shop, teaching him by the sight of his own eyes what life means to the silent multitude upon whose bent shoulders the fabric of society rests,—what that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—brave aspirations of the forefathers—has brought to the common man in this land of destiny and desire.  1
  The wanderer breathed the deadly fumes of smelter and glass works, saw where men were burned in great converters, or torn limb from limb upon the whirling teeth of swift machines,—done to death in this way and that, or maimed and cast useless upon the rubbish heap of humanity,—waste product of the process.  2
  “For,” as his guide repeated, “in this country, where Property is sacred, nothing is cheaper than human life. For, remember, the supply of raw labor is inexhaustible.”  3
  He recalled the words of a sleek and comfortable man of business, at the end of the day, with his good dinner comfortably in his belly and a fat cigar between his lips: “There’s too much sentimentalism in the air. Some religion less effeminate than Christ’s is needed to fit the facts of life. In the struggle the weak must go under, and it is a crime to interfere with natural law.” The weak must go under! Surely if that were the law, any religion that would offer an anodyne to the hopeless were a blessing. But again and again the question rose unanswered to his lips,—who are the weak? And the sleek one with his cigar said, “Those who go under!”…  4
  So they passed on their way through squalid factory towns reeking with human vice and disease, through the network of railroad terminals crowded with laden cars rolling forth to satisfy desires. They loitered in busy city stores, in dim basement holes where bread and clothes were making, in filthy slaughter-houses where beasts were slain by beasts.…  5
  At sunset of a glowing day the two sat upon an upper ridge of the hills. All the imperial colors of the firmament dyed the western heavens among the broken peaks of the mountains. Below in the lonely valleys were the excoriations of the mines, the refuse, the smudged stains of the rough surface of the earth. The guide pointed into the distance where the huge smelter of Senator Dexter’s mine sent a yellow cloud upward.  6
  “Near that is the charred debris where the miners blew up the old works. Below the brow of yonder hills lies that stockade where miners, with their women and children, were penned for weeks like wild animals, guarded by the troops of the nation. Beyond is the edge of the great desert, into whose waterless waste others were driven to their death. Of these I was one that escaped. Men were shot and women raped. But I tell over old tales known to all. In this place it has been truly a life for a life according to the primitive text—but more honest than the cunning and hidden ways of the law. Here the eaten is face to face, at least, with the eater.”  7
  The twilight came down like a curtain, hiding the scars of man’s dominion over the earth. The two sat in silent thought. This was the apex of their journey together, and the end. Behind this lofty table-land of the continent began the grim desert, not yet subdued by man, and beyond came other fertile valleys and other mountains, and finally another ocean. Thither had been carried the same civilization, the same spirit of conquest and greed, and that noble aspiration after “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” bore the same fruit in the blood of man. Wherever the victorious race had forced its way, it sowed the seeds of hate and industrial crime. And the flower must bloom, early or late, upon the lonely cattle ranch, in the primeval forest, the soft southern grove, or the virgin valley of the “promised land.”  8
  Thus spoke the Anarch.  9
  In the glimmering twilight the fierce eyes of the bearded one rested upon the wanderer.  10
  “Have you seen enough?”  11
  “Enough! God knows.”  12
  “So at last you understand the meaning of it all!”  13
  “Not yet!” And from the depth of his being there flashed the demand, “Why have you shown me the sore surface of life? What have you to do with it? And what have I?”  14
  His guide replied, “So you still long for the smooth paths of prosperity? You would like to shield your eyes from the disagreeable aspects of a world that is good to you? You would still have your comfort and your heart’s desire? Your ambitious fancy still turns to the daughter of privilege, dainty and lovely and sweet to the eyes?”  15
 
  (The young man returns to the rich woman whom he had meant to marry.)  16
  He knelt and taking the hem of her garment held it in his hands.  17
  “See!” He crushed the soft fabric in his hand. “Silk with thread of gold. It is the tears! See!” He touched her girdle with his hands. “Gold and precious stones. They are the groans! See!” He put his fingers upon the golden hair. “A wreath of pure gold! Tears and groans and bloody sweat! You are a tissue of the lives of others, from feet to the crown upon your hair.… See!” His hot hands crushed the orchids at her breast. “Even the flower at your breast is stained with blood.… I see the tears of others on your robe. I hear their sighs in your voice. I see defeated desires in the light of your eyes. You are the Sacrifice of the many—I cannot touch!”  18
 
 
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