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.
No. 5 John Street

By Richard Whiteing

(English author and journalist, born 1840. The volume here quoted is one of the most amazing pictures of slum-life ever penned)
AFTER midnight the gangs return in carousal from the gin shops, the more thoughtful of them with stored liquor for the morning draft. Now it is three stages of man—no more: man gushing, confiding, uplifted, as he feels the effect of the lighter fumes; disputatious, quarrelsome, as the heavier mount in a second brew of hell; raging with wrath and hate, as the very dregs send their emanations to the tortured brain.  1
  The embrace, the wrangle, and the blow—this is the order of succession. Till one—to mark it by the clock—we sing, “’Art to ’art an’ ’and to ’and.” At about one forty-five you may expect the tribal row between the gangs, who prey on one another for recreation, and on society for a living. Our brutes read the current gospel of the survival of the fittest in their own way, and they dimly apprehend that mankind is still organized as a predatory horde. The ever-open door brings us much trouble from the outside. The unlighted staircase is a place of rendezvous, and, not unfrequently, of deadly quarrel, in undertones of concentrated fury, between wretches who seek seclusion for the work of manslaughter. Our latest returning inmate, the other night, stumbled over the body of a woman not known at No. 5. She had been kicked to death within sight and sound of lodgers who, believing it to be a matrimonial difference, held interference to be no business of theirs.  2
  The first thud of war between the “Hooligans” is generally for two sharp. The seconds set to, along with their principals, as in the older duel. For mark that in most things we are as our betters were just so many centuries ago, and are simply belated with our flint age. And now our shapelier waves of sound break into a mere foam of oath and shriek. At times there is an interval of silence more awful than the tumult; and you may know that the knife is at its silent work, and that the whole meaner conflict is suspended for an episode of tragedy. If it is a hospital case, it closes the celebration. If it is not, the entertainment probably dies out in a slanging match between two of the fair; and the unnamable in invective and vituperation rises, as in blackest vapor, from our pit to the sky. At this, every room that holds a remnant of decency closes its window, and all withdraw, except, perhaps, the little boys and girls, who are beginning to pair according to the laws of the ooze and of the slime.…  3

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