Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Hunt for the Job
(From “Pay Envelopes”)

By James Oppenheim

(American poet and novelist; born 1882)
THE HUNT began early next morning—the Hunt for the Job. The hunter, however, is really the hunted. Now and then he bares his skin to the unthinking blows of the world, and runs off to hide himself in the crowd. You may see him bobbing along the turbulent man-currents of Broadway, a tide-tossed derelict in the thousand-foot shadows of the sky-scrapers. The mob about him is lusty with purpose, each unit making his appointed place, the morning rush to work bearing the stenographer to her machine, the broker to his ticker, the ironworker to his sky-dangling beam. In the mighty machine of the city each has his place, each is provided for, each gets the glow of sharing in the world’s work. The morning rush, splashed at street crossings with the gold of the Eastern sun, is rippled with fresh eyes and busy lips. They are all in the machine. But our young man crouching in a corner of the crowded car is not of these; slinking down Broadway he is aware that the machine has thrown him out and he cannot get in. He is an exile in the midst of his own people. The sense of loneliness and inferiority eats the heart out of the breast; the good of life is gone; the blackness soaks across the city and into his home, his love, his soul.  1
  Some go bitter and are for throwing bombs; some despair and are for wiping themselves away; some—the rank and file—are for fighting to the last ditch. Peter pendulated between all three of these moods. In ordinary times he would have been all fight; in these hard times, drenched with the broadcast hopelessness of men, he knew he was foredoomed to defeat. Only a miracle could save him.  2
  Trudging up Seventy-ninth Street to Third Avenue, fresh with Annie’s kiss and the baby’s pranks, he had the last bit of daring dashed out of him by a strange throng of men. Before a small Hebrew synagogue, packed in the deep area were forty unemployed workers, jammed crowd-thick against the windows and gate. It was fresh weather, not cold, yet the men shivered. Their bodies had for long been unwarmed by sufficient food or clothing; there was a grayness about them as of famished wolves; their lips and fingers were blue; they were unshaved and frowzy with some vile sleeping place. Hard times had blotched the city with a myriad of such groups. And as Peter stopped and imagined himself driven at last among them, he saw a burly fellow emerge from the house and begin handing out charity bowls of hot coffee and charity bread. Peter, independent American workman, was stung at the sight; the souls of these workers were somehow being outraged; they were eating out of the hands of the comfortable, like so many gutter dogs.  3
  The rest of the morning Peter dared now and then to present himself at an office to ask work. At some places he tried boldness, at others meekness, and at last he begged, “For God’s sake, I have a wife and baby—” He met with various receptions at the hands of clerks, office boys, and bosses. A few were sorry, some turned their backs, the rest hurried him out. Each refusal, each “not wanted in the scheme of things,” shot him out into the streets, stripped of another bit of self-reliance. In spite of himself, he began to feel his poor appearance, his drooping lip, his broken purpose. He was a failure and the world could not use him. He hardly dared to look a man in the eyes, to lift his voice above a whisper, to make a demand, to dare a refusal. He slunk home at last like a cowed and beaten animal.  4

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