In January, Dobie goes to Washington again but is not called to testify. He returns to Braddock and waits on the Labor Board to make a decision. In March, the company finally capitulates and signs a contract with the SWOC in what people hail as “the most important job ever undertaken by organized labor in America.” News of the contract spreads like wildfire through the mill towns. The Pittsburgh papers, long antagonistic towards unions, shift their coverage to the company’s recent spate of philathropic activities. A few days after the company signs with the SWOC, all union members of the ERP resign from the latter organization. The ERP continues to exist for non-union members, but it is now defanged. The SWOC office in Pittsburgh reports that 35,000 steelworkers have joined the union in a two-week span of time: “The fifty-year struggle to free the steel towns was nearly over.”
The fallout from the CIO hearings finally destroys the ERP and forces the company to sign a contract with the union. By writing that this process finally “frees” the steel towns, Bell means that the company alone no longer holds total control over the thousands of lives who labor in its blast furnaces and live in its polluted towns. The union will now give workers and their families a say in the conditions that determine the course of their lives, which is the very definition of “freedom” itself.
It is nighttime and Dobie cannot sleep. He gets out of bed quietly so as not to disturb Julie. As he gazes down onto the sleeping city of Braddock, the Bessemer furnaces casting a flickering glow over its houses, he imagines the future. Soon, men will stride into the steel mills wearing union buttons on their caps, and “no knightly plume had ever been worn more proudly or celebrated a greater victory.” The job, however, is not finished.
For the first time in the novel, Bell presents the vison of a hopeful future that will soon become a reality. Kracha, Mike, and Mary once fanaticized about achieving the American Dream in order to escape temporarily from the hellish reality of the nightmares that their lives became. Dobie, however, has helped to fulfill the American Dream not just for himself, but for many others as well.
Dobie realizes that there is still much injustice in the world. The business cycle still fluctuates, leaving men without work for days, weeks, and months. The union must grow until every worker is a member, and somehow, the union must find a remedy for business fluctuations that periodically threaten its membership. The union also has to infiltrate politics and establish its own papers to compete with the company propaganda. The problem of technological advancement also threatens to put thousands of men out of work in the very near future, and the capital owners will not be sympathetic to this human tragedy. This type of short-sighted greed must end, starting with the old system of bossism “under which some men had virtual power of life and death over others.” Finally, Dobie looks forward to the day when the word “Hunky” ceases to be an acceptable epithet and gradually fades from collective memory.
As much as the union is a symbol of hope in Bell’s novel that finally frees the steel towns from the company’s powerful clutches, it still represents only the first step in Bell’s vision for what America should become. While the rebirth of the unions is a major achievement, Bell believes that the next step must be to end America’s slavish reliance on the cold dictates of industrial capitalism to determine the direction of human lives. Even with a revived union, bosses will still have authority over workers, technology will render many workers “useless,” and lives will continue to be sacrificed in the name of profit. To continue making the American Dream a reality, Bell suggests, that the dream must allow people to live as they see fit.
Dobie believes that it is now everyone’s duty to fight ignorance wherever it emerges. Those who cherish “freedom and decency” should ask for no less from themselves. As he stares into the night, Dobie reflects on Mikie’s wish that a person could pick their place of birth so as not to have the character their birthplace forever etched into their identity. Dobie admits that he is a product of the mill town, but he is also an American. Being an American entails certain rights, not least of all “the right of every man to live his life as he thought best,” and to defend that right “if anyone tried to change it.”
Here, Bell returns to Mikie’s belief that people should be able to choose their place of birth. While this will always be an impossibility, Bell suggests that the next best thing would be to ensure that one’s place of birth does not determine the course of their entire life. Once again, Bell speaks through Dobie: he is, and always will be, a son of the steel mills. For Bell, “place” is both a physical location and a metaphorical representation of a person’s hopes, dreams, and identity.
Moreover, being an American grants a man the right to change his way of living if he decides he no longer likes it, and to make a better life for his children. Dobie, like the other steelworkers in Braddock, comes “out of this furnace, this metal,” but he is not fated to endure the life that his father and grandfather endured. He has the power to change his fate, as everyone should. After finishing his cigarette, Dobie climbs back into bed with Julie. He pats her belly. “Okay, kid. Any time you're ready,” he whispers. Then he turns onto his side and goes to sleep.
Bell ends the novel with a final comment on the nature of the American Dream. He emphasizes that the American Dream will mean different things to different people. However, the unifying factor in every American’s vision of the American Dream should be the right to live and enjoy life in the manner they choose. Dobie may or may not entirely achieve this dream for himself, but he believes that his child just might. The novel, therefore, ends of a note of hope for the unwritten future.