- The first chapter of this novel is a short story titled "The Stoker".
The story describes the bizarre wanderings of sixteen-year-old European immigrant Karl Roßmann, who was forced to go to New York City to escape the scandal of his seduction by a housemaid. As the ship arrives in the United States, he becomes friends with a stoker who is about to be dismissed from his job. Karl identifies with the stoker and decides to help him; together they go to see the captain of the ship. In a surreal turn of events, Karl's uncle, Senator Jacob, is in a meeting with the captain. Karl does not know that Senator Jacob is his uncle, but Mr. Jacob recognizes him and takes him away from the stoker.
Karl stays with his uncle for some time but is later abandoned by him after making a visit to his uncle's friend without his uncle's full approval. Wandering aimlessly, he becomes friends with two drifters named Robinson and Delamarche. They promise to find him a job, but they sell his suit without permission, eat his food in front of him without offering him any, and ransack his belongings. Finally, Karl departs from them on bad terms after he's offered a job by a manager at Hotel Occidental. He works there as a lift-boy. One day Robinson shows up drunk at his work asking him for money. Afraid of losing his job being seen talking with a friend, which is forbidden for lift-boys, Karl agrees to lend him money, then commits the far worse offence of bunking a drunk-sick Robinson in the lift-boy dorm.
Being dismissed for leaving his post, Karl agrees not only to pay for Robinson's taxi, but also joins him. They travel to Delamarche's place. Delamarche is now staying with a wealthy and obese lady named Brunelda. She wants to take in Karl as her servant. Karl refuses, but Delamarche physically forces him to stay and he is imprisoned in her apartment. He tries to break out, but is beaten by Delamarche and Robinson. On the balcony, he chats with a student who tells him he should stay, because it is hard to find a job elsewhere. He decides to stay.
One day he sees an advertisement for the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, which is looking for employees. The theatre promises to find employment for everyone. Karl applies for a job and gets engaged as a "technical worker." He is then sent to Oklahoma by train and is welcomed by the vastness of the valleys and adopts the name "Negro" as his own.