Characters walk the reader through different events in the plot. They signify various attributes linked to human lives and society. Characters in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair signify various aspects of humanity, showing different thematic strands like the myth of the American Dream. Some of the important characters have been analyzed below.
Characters in The Jungle
Jurgis Rudkus is the protagonist of The Jungle and represents the idea of the American Dream. He is a Lithuanian immigrant and Sinclair’s mouthpiece in the novel. The author uses his character is to gather sympathy and admiration from his readers for his argument of the anti-American Dream. He is young, robust, optimistic, spirited, dedicated to his family and is keen towards his new country. Jurgis is not only a strong advocate of the American Dream but also a supporter of hard work. When Ona is worrying about the debt, Jurgis reassures her that he will work harder than before which would solve their problems.
Despite his hard work, Jurgis’s idealism and innocence slowly witness a crushing defeat at the hands of oppressive living conditions in Packingtown. Due to the tragedy, he behaves selfishly following Ona’s demise and leaves the family after Antanas’s death. This reality check results in agony for him, awakening his repressed survival instincts. He knows that he has to act against his idealism and moral values or face failure. However, contrary to this, he starts acting carelessly, spending his income on drinking and turning into a criminal. He then kills his wife’s rapist in this confusion. He depicts an idealized portrayal of the poor working-class community. His dreadful conditions and humiliations demonstrate that capitalist ideology proves fatal for the working class.
Ona Lukoszaite Rudkus
Jurgis’s loving fiancé turned wife, Ona, is educated. Along with Jurgis, her talents prove useless to her in Packingtown when it comes to realizing their American Dream. Although she is physically weak, she chooses hard labor to help Jurgis. Even when she is pregnant, she cannot quit her work. After she gives birth to her child, Antanas, her health starts getting worse. Her boss exploits her weakness. Sadly, she does not protest and stays quiet about the matter. She finally discloses the truth to her husband, which leads to their job loss.
During her second pregnancy, she gets extremely weak and dies along with the unborn child. After their tragic deaths, Jurgis blames himself for the American Dream. Ona is a victim of circumstances beyond her control. She failed to raise her voice against her influential boss. Also, she couldn’t bear the hard labor and fails in uplifting the social status of her family. Her character depicts the weak and deliberately silenced part of the community.
Ona’s cousin, Marija is physically strong and can avenge herself against the violence. Before her immigration to Packingtown, she beats up her previous employer was beating her since childhood. Like Jurgis, she is enamored by the idea of the American Dream. She lands a job following a rigorous search. Later, she then gets into a relationship with Tamoszius Kuszleika, a factory worker and a violinist. As economic depression hits the poor hard, she loses her job like Jurgis. These unfavorable circumstances result in putting off her marriage with Tamoszius in the hope of better financial stability in the future. After facing hardships, she gets another job as a beef trimmer. Then, she accidentally drops a sharp knife on her hand and gets injured. This injury results in the amputation of her hand. It also forces her to enter prostitution. Jurgis tries to get her out, but she refuses.
Ona’s stepmother, Teta, enjoys the position as the head of the family. She is a realist and extremely practical without any American Dream. Teta does not oppose Jurgis’s decision to join the socialist movement. Instead, she extends her support toward him and attends his socialist speeches. However, Elzbieta holds on to her Lithuanian traditions even in America. She insists upon the traditional marriage of Ona and Jurgis and later asks for a traditional funeral when her child dies. When Jurgis refuses the expenses, she goes to the town to beg for the money but never withdraws from following her traditions. Her character shows the ignorant attitude of the old generation toward economic depression.
A prominent symbol of capitalism, Phil Connor heads the loading crew at the meatpacking factory. His post has given him powers, making him a highly influential man, having friendly ties with major political and business figures such as Mike Scully. He abuses Ona and threatens to fire them of job. He even threatens to murder her loved ones, such as Jurgis and Marija’s in case she discloses this to others. He also forces her into prostitution and makes her work at his acquaintance, Miss Henderson’s brothel. When Jurgis tries to take this matter into his hands and attacks him, Connor bluntly refuses Jurgis’s charges. His influence works in the court, and Jurgis is punished.
Later, his influence even works in elections for Mike Scully, who spurns his offers on account of his own stable position. To Jurgis’s surprise, Scully still supports Connor and Jurgis has to comply to avoid going to jail the second time. Connor’s character represents the status quo and unjust distribution of resources and law enforcement in society. Such leaders are elite and highly influential because of their money, power, and status.
Mike Skully is an influential politician in Packingtown and the democratic boss. Jurgis works for him but he cannot seem to know the hidden truth about Scully’s friendship with him. In fact, Scully is responsible for the tragic deaths of Ona and their child Antanas. Mike’s character is a perfect example of many capitalist leaders.
Known as Dede Antanas, Jurgis’s father. From the beginning, he is resolute to contribute to the family’s success in Chicago. Unfortunately, when he migrates to America, he sees that elderly people do not enjoy any respect. He eventually dies as a hopeless person whose expectations stay unfilled contrary to the harsh realities.
Kristoforas, Stanislovas, Kotrina, Vilimas, Nikalojus, and Juozapas
They are Elzbieta’s children and they represent the abuse gone through by children during the industrial revolution. All six of her children either die of tough conditions or fell to hard labor at a tender age.
Antanas Rudkus (Little Antanas)
Little Antanas is named after his grandfather. He is Ona and Jurgis’s only son. He is the only hope of his father, the reason that he attaches higher future probabilities. Unfortunately, he dies at a tender age after slipping in the mud.
Nicholas Schilemann is a serving as a spokesman for socialism. He talks at length about the socialist philosophy to the magazine editor, who has penned down an opposite point of view earlier. Through his character, the author expresses his political thoughts and beliefs.