The room is crowded with men, shouting, cursing, laughing, signing—a confused, inchoate uproar swelling into a sort of unity, a meaning—the bewildered, furious, baffled defiance of a beast in a cage. […]
The treatment of this scene, or of any other scene in the play, should by no means be naturalistic. The effect sought after is a cramped space in the bowels of a ship, imprisoned by white steel. The lines of bunks, the uprights supporting them, cross each other like the steel framework of a cage. The ceiling crushes down upon the men’s heads. They cannot stand upright. This accentuates the natural stooping posture which shoveling coal and the resultant over-development of back and shoulder muscles have given them. The men themselves should resemble those pictures in which the appearance of Neanderthal Man is guessed at. All are hairy-chested, with long arms of tremendous power, and low, receding brows above their small, fierce, resentful eyes.
Dis is home, see? What d’yuh want wit home? (proudly) I runned away from mine when I was a kid. On’y too glad to beat it, dat was me. Home was lickings for me, dat’s all. But yuh can bet your shoit no one ain’t never licked me since! Wanter try it, any of youse? Huh! I guess not.
This is ’ell. We lives in ’ell,—Comrades—and right enough we’ll die in it. (raging) And who’s ter blame, I arks yer? We ain’t. We wasn’t born this rotten way. All men is born free and ekal. That’s in the bleedin’ Bible, maties. But what d’they care for the Bible—them lazy, bloated swine what travels first cabin? Them’s the ones. They dragged us down ’til we’re on’y wage slaves in the bowels of a bloody ship, sweatin’, burnin’ up, eatin’ coal dust! Hit’s them’s ter blame—the damned Capitalist clarss!
Wanter know what I t’ink? Yuh ain’t no good for no one. Yuh’re de bunk. Yuh ain’t got no noive, get me? Yuh’re yellow, dat’s what. Yellow, dat’s you. Say! What’s dem slobs in de foist cabin got to do wit us? We’re better men dan dey are, ain’t we? Sure! One of us guys could clean up de whole mob wit one mit. Put one of ’em down here for one watch in de stokehole, what’d happen? Dey’d carry him off on a stretcher. Dem boids don’t amount to nothin’. Dey’re just baggage. Who makes dis old tub run? Ain’t it us guys? Well den, we belong, don’t we? We belong and dey don’t. Dat’s all. (A loud chorus of approval. Yank goes on.) As for dis bein’ hell—aw, nuts! Yuh lost your novie, dat’s what. Dis is a man’s job, get me? It belongs. It runs dis tub. No stiffs need apply. But yuh’re a stiff, see? Yuh’re yellow, dat’s you.
Yerra, what’s the use of talking? ’Tis a dead man’s whisper. (to Yank resentfully) ’Twas them days a ship was part of the sea, and a man was part of a ship, and the sea joined all together and made it one. (scornfully) Is it one wid this you’d be, Yank—black smoke from the funnels smudging the sea, smudging the decks—the bloody engines pounding and throbbing and shaking—wid divil a sight of sun or a breath of clean air—choking our lungs wid coal dust—breaking our backs and hearts in the hell of the stokehole—feeding the bloody furnace—feeding our lives along wid the coal, I’m thinking—caged in by steel from a sight of the sky like bloody apes in the Zoo! (with a harsh laugh) Ho-ho, divil mend you! Is it to belong to that you’re wishing? Is it a flesh and blood wheel of the engines you’d be?
Everyting else dat makes de woild move, somep’n makes it move. It can’t move witout somep’n else, see? Den yuh get down to me. I’m at de bottom, get me! Dere ain’t nothin’ foither. I’m de end! I’m de start! I start somep’n and de woild moves! It—dat’s me!—de new dat’s moiderin’ de old! I’m de ting in coal dat makes it boin; I’m steam and oil for de engines; I’m de ting in gold dat makes it money! And I’m what makes iron into steel! Steel, dat stands for de whole ting! And I’m steel—steel—steel!
PADDY—(begins to sing the “Miller of Dee” with enormous good nature)
“I care for nobody, no, not I,
And nobody cares for me.”
YANK—(good-natured himself in a flash, interrupts Paddy with a slap on the bare back like a report) Dat’s de stuff! Now yuh’re gettin’ wise to somep’n. Care for nobody, dat’s de dope! To hell wit ’em all! And nix on nobody else carin’. I kin care for myself, get me! (Eight bells sound, muffled, vibrating through the steel walls as if some enormous brazen gong were imbedded in the heart of the ship. […].)
The impression to be conveyed by this scene is one of the beautiful, vivid life of the sea all about—sunshine on the deck in a great flood, the fresh sea wind blowing across it. In the midst of this, these two incongruous, artificial figures, inert and disharmonious, the elder like a gray lump of dough touched up with rouge, the younger looking as if the vitality of her stock had been sapped before she was conceived, so that she is the expression not of its life energy but merely of the artificialities that energy had won for itself in the spending.
After exhausting the morbid thrills of social service work on New York’s East Side—how they must have hated you, by the way, the poor that you made so much poorer in their own eyes!—you are now bent on making your slumming international.
Please do not mock at my attempts to discover how the other half lives. Give me credit for some sort of groping sincerity in that at least. I would like to help them. I would like to be some use in the world. Is it my fault I don’t know how? I would like to be sincere, to touch life somewhere. (with weary bitterness) But I’m afraid I have neither the vitality nor integrity. All that was burnt out in our stock before I was born. Grandfather’s blast furnaces, flaming to the sky, melting steel, making millions—then father keeping those home fires burning, making more millions—and little me at the tail-end of it all. I’m a waste product of the Bessemer process—like the millions. Or rather, I inherit the acquired trait of the byproduct, wealth, but none of the energy, none of the strength of the steel that made it.
There is a tumult of noise—the brazen clang of the furnace doors as they are flung open or slammed shut, the grating, teeth-gritting grind of steel against steel, of crunching coal. This clash of sounds stuns one’s ears with its rending dissonance. But there is order in it, rhythm, a mechanical regulated recurrence, a tempo. And rising above all, making the air hum with the quiver of liberated energy, the roar of leaping flames in the furnaces, the monotonous throbbing beat of the engines.
He whirls defensively with a snarling, murderous growl, crouching to spring, his lips drawn back over his teeth, his small eyes gleaming ferociously. He sees Mildred, like a white apparition in the full light from the open furnace doors. He glares into her eyes, turned to stone. As for her, during his speech she has listened, paralyzed with horror, terror, her whole personality crushed, beaten in, collapsed, by the terrific impact of this unknown, abysmal brutality, naked and shameless. As she looks at his gorilla face, as his eyes bore into hers, she utters a low, choking cry and shrinks away from him, putting both hands up before her eyes to shut out the sight of his face, to protect her own. This startles Yank to a reaction. His mouth falls open, his eyes grow bewildered.
Hinsultin’ us, the bloody cow! And them bloody engineers! What right ’as they got to be exhibitin’ us ’s if we was bleedin’ monkeys in a menagerie? Did we sign for hinsults to our dignity as ’onest workers? Is that in the ship’s articles? You kin bloody well bet it ain’t! But I knows why they done it. I arsked a deck steward ’o she was and ’e told me. ’Er old man’s a bleedin’ millionaire, a bloody Capitalist! ’E’s got enuf bloody gold to sink this bleedin’ ship! ’E makes arf the bloody steel in the world! ’E owns this bloody boat! And you and me, Comrades, we’re ’is slaves! And the skipper and mates and engineers, they’re ’is slaves! And she’s ’is bloody daughter and we’re all ’er slaves, too! And she gives ’er orders as ’ow she wants to see the bloody animals below decks and down they takes ’er!
And there she was standing behind us, and the Second pointing at us like a man you’d hear in a circus would be saying: In this cage is a queerer kind of baboon than ever you’d find in darkest Africy. We roast them in their own sweat—and be damned if you won’t hear some of thim saying they like it! (He glances scornfully at Yank.)
’Twas love at first sight, divil a doubt of it! If you’d seen the endearin’ look on her pale mug when she shriveled away with her hands over her eyes to shut out the sight of him! Sure, ’twas as if she’d seen a great hairy ape escaped from the Zoo!
Here the adornments of extreme wealth are tantalizingly displayed. The jeweler’s window is gaudy with glittering diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls, etc., fashioned in ornate tiaras, crowns, necklaces, collars, etc. From each piece hangs an enormous tag from which a dollar sign and numerals in intermittent electric lights wink out the incredible prices. The same in the furrier’s. Rich furs of all varieties hang there bathed in a downpour of artificial light. The general effect is of a background of magnificence cheapened and made grotesque by commercialism, a background in tawdry disharmony with the clear light and sunshine on the street itself.
LONG—(as disgusted as he dares to be) Ain’t that why I brought yer up ’ere—to show yer? Yer been actin’ an’ talkin’ ’s if it was all a bleedin’ personal matter between yer and that bloody cow. I wants to convince yer she was on’y a representative of ’er clarss. I wants to awaken yer bloody clarss consciousness. Then yer’ll see it’s ’er clarss yer’ve got to fight, not ’er alone. There’s a ’ole mob of ’em like ’er, Gawd blind ’em!
YANK—(spitting on his hands—belligerently) De more de merrier when I gits started. Bring on de gang!
LONG—(excitedly) Church is out. ’Ere they come, the bleedin’ swine. (after a glance at Yank’s face—uneasily) Easy goes, Comrade. Keep yer bloomin’ temper. Remember force defeats itself. It ain’t our weapon. We must impress our demands through peaceful means—the votes of the on-marching proletarians of the bloody world!
YANK—(with abysmal contempt) Votes, hell! Votes is a joke, see. Votes for women! Let dem do it!
Many police whistles shrill out on the instant and a whole platoon of policemen rush in on Yank from all sides. He tries to fight but is clubbed to the pavement and fallen upon. The crowd at the window have not moved or noticed this disturbance. The clanging gong of the patrol wagon approaches with a clamoring din.
“They plot with fire in one hand and dynamite in the other. They stop not before murder to gain their ends, nor at the outraging of defenseless womanhood. They would tear down society, put the lowest scum in the seats of the mighty, turn Almighty God’s revealed plan for the world topsy-turvy, and make of our sweet and lovely civilization a shambles, a desolation where man, God’s masterpiece, would soon degenerate back to the ape!”
SECRETARY—President of the Steel Trust, you mean? Do you want to assassinate him?
YANK—Naw, dat don’t get yuh nothin’. I mean blow up de factory, de woiks, where he makes de steel. Dat’s what I’m after—to blow up de steel, knock all de steel in de woild up to de moon. Dat’ll fix tings! (eagerly, with a touch of bravado) I’ll do it by me lonesome! I’ll show yuh! Tell me where his woiks is, how to git there, all de dope. Gimme de stuff, de old butter—and watch me do de rest! Watch de smoke and see it move! I don’t give a damn if dey nab me—long as it’s done! I’ll soive life for it—and give ’em de laugh! (half to himself) And I’ll write her a letter and tell her de hairy ape done it. Dat’ll square tings.
So dem boids don’t tink I belong, neider. Aw to hell wit ’em! Dey’re in de wrong pew—de same old bull—soapboxes and Salvation Army—no guts! Cut out an hour offen de job a day and make me happy! Gimme a dollar more a day and make me happy! Gimme a dollar more a day and make me happy! Tree square a day, and cauliflowers in de front yard—ekal rights—a woman and kids—a lousy vote—and I’m all fixed for Jesus, huh? Aw, hell! What does dat get yuh? Dis ting’s in your inside, but it ain’t your belly. Feedin’ your face—sinkers and coffee—dat don’t touch it. It’s way down—at de bottom. Yuh can’t grab it, and yuh can’t stop it. It moves, and everything moves. It stops and de whole woild stops. Dat’s me now—I don’t tick, see?—I’m a busted Ingersoll, dat’s what. Steel was me, and I owned de woild. Now I ain’t steel, and de woild owns me. Aw, hell! I can’t see—it’s all dark, get me? It’s all wrong!
On’y yuh’re lucky, see? Yuh don’t belong wit’ em and yuh know it. But me, I belong wit ’em—but I don’t, see? Dey don’t belong wit me, dat’s what. Get me? Tinkin’ is hard—(He passes one hand across his forehead with a painful gesture. The gorilla growls impatiently. Yank goes on gropingly.) It’s dis way, what I’m drivin’ at. Youse can sit and dope dream in de past, green woods, de jungle and de rest of it. Den yuh belong and dey don’t. Den yuh kin laugh at ’em, see? Yuh’re de champ of de woild. But me—I ain’t got no past to tink in, nor nothin’ dat’s comin’, on’y what’s now—and dat don’t belong. Sure, you’re de best off! Yuh a bluff at talkin’ and tinkin’—a’most git away wit it—a’most!—and dat’s where de joker comes in.