Themes are overarching ideas a literary piece presents to its readers through characters or storylines. Themes in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair are diverse. These themes are applicable in the current times as well. Some of the major themes of The Jungle have been explained below.
Themes in The Jungle
Capitalism and Its Downside
This is the most important and recurrent theme of the novel. The story proves that capitalism only favors the established businesses and the privileged class of the society. As it ensures the unjust distribution of wealth and resources in the elite class. The conditions Jurgis and his family are forced to live below the poverty line, where they cannot seem to do anything to improve their conditions. They are pushed toward hard domestic and industrial labor that costs Ona her life and dignity. Jurgis’s hope for a better tomorrow remains a hope. Whenever Jurgis tries to protest, he is thrown behind bars. Hence, he remains helpless. This theme also echoes the author’s anti-capitalist views. He further discusses an opportunity to present a solution in the form of socialism to Jurgis. Thus, ensuring just distribution of wealth among all communities living in the society.
Flawed American Dream
The idea of the American Dream holds much significance in American literature. Here, the author exposes the flawed American Dream, its hollow promises and dark reality. Jurgis immigrates to America from Lithuania in hopes of a better future for him and his family as he continues repeating his mantra of “I will work harder”. However, after working harder and persistently, he sees his efforts going in vain and faces losses in every area of life. This reality of the capitalist society flies in the face of Jurgis, whose American Dream has failed him badly.
Similarly, Marija works hard too but ends up as a prostitute because no one in Capitalist America acknowledges her hardworking abilities. The fate of most characters also shows that in an unjust society, dreams are hollow. After working hard, poor people continue getting scraps as rewards for their toiling labors and sacrifices. This proves the flawed reality of the American Dream.
Culture and Migration
Culture and migration go side by side in the novel. A community’s culture plays a significant role in a community’s life because shared cultural groups can do better in the long run. Unfortunately, nothing of this sort happens with Jurgis and his family members. Despite having met a warm welcome at the new green pasture, they fail to find opportunities equal to the natives. Their status and position do not improve. On the other hand, their customs and rituals hold so much importance for them that to do a Lithuanian burial for her child, Tera Elizabeta almost goes down on her knees, for she cannot agree to a simple funeral. Also, Jurgis’s father dies when he does not reconcile with the idea of being deceived in a new land where their hopes for acceptance and better prospects face were to be fulfilled.
Influence of Politics
The influence of politics reveals the dark side of the capitalist ideology and its hollow, false promises the elite class offer to the working class. Both Mike Scully and Phill Connor enjoy being at the top of the hierarchy in Packingtown. They exploit workers, threaten them and do not care to sympathize with their unhealthy conditions and miserable financial situations. Take advantage of every coast and crushing rebellious workers become their motto with their deceptive ways of continuing the unfair distribution of wealth. When Jurgis confronts him at the court, the court drops charges against Connor and arrests Jurgis instead, causing heavy blow Jurgis’ sense of justice. Even elections are exploited when Jurgis sees another opportunity to get into politics and win justice. As Connor still held impactful authority, who is a symbol of capitalism.
Gender Abuse serves as another important theme in the novel as it draws upon the violence against women in the capitalist economy of America. It can be seen through the treatment of Ona and Marija that they both are looked down upon, overworked, and then forced into prostitution. Marija fails to find a respectful job, which is economic exploitation.
Familial remain important in times of suffering and loss. Jurgis loses his wife and children while Teta Elzbieta loses her child, though, both try to find their ways for the survival of their remaining family members. In the time of crisis, familial bonds prove unbreakable, which is heartening for Jurgis and Marija.
Poverty is caused because of the unjust economic system, which forces the working-class to suffer. They are deprived of the basic necessities of life. For example, Jurgis fails to provide food and shelter to his family after getting psychologically disturbed. Later, he wastes his money for alcohol which incapacitates him. He keeps thinking about removing his family from the clutches of poverty.
Slaved or forced labor goes along with the themes of Capitalism and the American Dream. In order to take efficient results with extremely low wages, businessman and corporate sector push the poor working class to work on lucrative jobs. Once they start working, they are forced to work for longer hours. For example, Conner forces Ona and many other employees to work at low wages too. This is also a form of economic exploitation.
The theme of socialism revolves around as a possible solution against capitalism. The transformation of Jurgis as a socialist also reminds its importance that masses should get their share justly. They must fight for their rights to earn the right pay and work hours, along with profits.
The author demonstrates the exposing style of journalism in the novel by giving prominence to unhygienic and hard laborious accounts of the meatpacking industry. This type of journalism stirs a public response against injustice and cruelty. It has proved to be successful in showing the facts through characters of Jurgis, Ona and their family.