The Jungle

Introduction to The Jungle

The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair is an American novel that was published in 1906. It became a masterpiece of those times when the American landscape was witnessing a sea of changes in its economic and social structure on account of the inundation of immigrants from different parts of the world. The introduction of the assembly-line industrial setup attracted immigrants around the globe, leading to rugged and harsh working conditions. The novel was set in the United States in the suburbs of Chicago where the meatpacking industry boomed at that time. The story presents Jurgis, a Lithuanian immigrant, who arrives in the United States to materialize his American Dream.

Summary of The Jungle

The novel presents the story of Jurgis Rudkus who arrives in America from Lithuania with his new bride Ona Lukoszaite and his extended family for a better future and freedom. They fall into enormous debt because of the lavish wedding. Now,  struggling to find some work in the Chicago suburbs. Not knowing English and living in the stockyards in the suburb of Chicago rather become their drawbacks in that they are unable to find respectable work except laboring in the meatpacking industry. While working in the slaughterhouse of Mr. Brown, Jurgis thinks that his dream of working with freedom in the United States has rather crashed on the ground, for his better half, too, is struggling with him to make both ends meet. Soon she becomes a victim of con men, while both waste their money in their efforts to purchase a house. It becomes inevitable for everyone in the family to work since the house they have leased comes with additional expenses which they have to pay everything month or face eviction.

Physical strength and morality soon leave them, making catastrophes hitting them through accidents and other problems. The first such catastrophe is the father of Jurgis who becomes the victim of the dirty conditions in the meatpacking industry and dies due to the lung infection. Kristoforas, son of Elzbieta and stepbrother of Ona is another victim who dies of food poisoning, while Jonas, brother of Elzbieta disappears from the scene leaving the family in a vulnerable condition. Soon Jurgis also finds himself sacked, as he was left jobless because of the injury he faced at the workplace. Instead of compensating, the company lays him off and doesn’t rehire him.

Ona has become a victim of workplace harassment at the hands of her boss Connor who blackmails to fire her if she doesn’t sleep with him. Jurgis becomes aware of his wife’s behavior and when he comes to know this betrayal in the family, he injures Connor, the exploiting boss of Ona, but faces arrest and is thrown behind the bars for this criminal act. However, when he wins his release, he finds his family on the roads after their eviction from the house. Soon the family finds itself in a boarding house with Ona having another child on the way which takes the life of both, the mother as well as the child. Jurgis feels disenchanted on account of his financial inability to save his wife and child and takes to drinking when visiting rural America.

Seeing the farmers using the workers to their ends, he comes back to Chicago and joins the scammers to pass his days. He was sent to jail again when he involves in a fight with a bartender who tricks him by taking his hundred dollars which he has received from the rich son of the packing industry. In the prison, he befriends Jack Duane and falls into the underworld crime. He becomes a vote fixer for Mike Scully and runs in Connor again. He gets into a fight with him and learns that Scully and Connor are friends. Now, he uses all his money to escape prison.

However, he finds Marija, the cousin of his better half, who is also passing her time working as a prostitute to feed the rest of the family. He is shocked to know that she, too, is addicted to heroin and even more shocked to know that the oldest child, Stanislovas, has died when locked at work because the rats eat him when he was passed out from alcohol. It happens that he finds a socialist demagogue who gives him hope and energy to support his family again by working at a hotel run by the Socialist party. The book ends on rather a happy note about the political victories of the socialists and Jurgis dedicates his life to the cause of socialism.

Major Themes in The Jungle

  1. Capitalism: The novel sheds light on the ravages of capitalism at the beginning of the 20th century in the United States when big meatpacking industries were growing in the suburbs of Chicago, absorbing and swallowing up the immigrants’ disregard of the wages and living conditions provided to the manual laborers. The conditions in which Jurgis finds himself, including his family members, show that capitalism’s priority is building their companies and only think about the profits to maintain their big industries and their production. They don’t care about the people who help build their organization. The elite class gets the lion’s share, leaving only a few morsels for the people like Jurgis. Also, the propagation of socialism could only be executed through the denigration of capitalism, the major intention of the writer.
  2. Flawed American Dream: The author meaningfully denigrates the idea of the American dream through the capitalistic brutalities, which have ravaged the lives of the immigrants like that of Ona and Jurgis. The extended family takes to the United States and reaches Chicago with the idea that they would have a lot of work to do to improve their standard of life. However, what they see and come face to face is to work very hard and get a meager income in return that is barely enough to keep their bodies continue breathing and working. Jurgis’s on and off work problems, Marija’s hard-working and the prostitution of the female members of the family that Jurgis sees, in the end, is enough to show this wrong idea of the American dream that Sinclair has meekly condemned through this novel.
  3. Problems of Migration: Although migration brings betterment in life, the search for the green pasture of Jurigs ends in disenchantment, for he thought of having a better lifestyle, but finds himself in a dilemma where he cannot help out his wife against the bullying boss and other women against the threatening hunger. This problem of migration becomes even more acute when it takes the root of anti-acculturation as the Lithuanian individuals take too much time to integrate with the locals due to having no time to understand the culture. The non-conformity of Tera to the funeral rites and the death of the father of Jurgis are some instances where this cultural problem seems acute.
  4. Politics: The politics of capitalism takes its toll on the class, the reason that the working class always sees socialism as the solution. Phill Connor and Mike Scully, together, confirm it that they sit at the top in Packingtown and exploit workers for their benefit as well as domination in the social structure. Their shamefacedness in the domination of the institutional hierarchy also continues in that they take advantage of every person they employ and even do not hesitate in crushing or abusing the rebels as it happens in the case of Ona and Jurgis, and Jurgis sees that even law takes their side and do not offer justice to the exploited.
  5. Familial Ties: The novel outlines familial relationships and the importance of blending together in a new country as immigrants. Although Jurgis fails to settle and support the members of his extended family, yet he decides to assist Marija when he sees that she is struggling to make both ends meet. Despite the fact that his father has breathed his last as well as his wife and the newborn, who could not be hospitalized due to his unstable financial condition, die. Yet, family ties support all of the Lithuanians during these trying times in Chicago.
  6. Gender Abuse: The novel shows gender abuse in the shape of Ona who undergoes the worst treatment, including offering sexual favors to Connor to win a job. Marija, too, faces the same thing and finally falls into prostitution when she sees things not coming easily to her.
  7. Poverty: The novel shows that poverty is not a prevalent condition. It is evident that is brought on or forced due to the exploitation within the hierarchical system led by capitalism, Jurgis and other family members face poverty because they could not cope with the industrial exploitation. They reach the United States on the expectations that the economic system there would be based on justice and fair play, little knowing that the same elite class is ruling there and that human nature of exploiting the vulnerable strata stay the same disregard of the place and space. He sees his wife dying in his hands during childbirth, other relatives dying of harsh conditions, and Marija suffering and exploited all because of poverty.
  8. Slaved Labor: The appalling conditions prevalent in the meatpacking industry and ranches and the exploitation of all the poor disregard of gender show that slaved labor is a condition that could emerge anywhere in the world. It was happening in the American city of Chicago that the immigrants like Jurgis and his extended family members are facing exploitation to work at lower wages and yet they cannot do anything.
  9. Socialism: Socialism emerges in the novel when Jurgis finds nothing else to support him and comes to a point where an orator is telling them the benefits of socialism. Finally, he comes to learn that it is a mass welfare system where he would be earning as much as he would be working.
  10. Journalistic Trend: The author tries to point out appalling working conditions at the beginning of the 20th century. He also provideS a journalistic view, through the fictional stories by unearthing injustice and evil-mindedness of human beings which pervades even the best-organized societies. The story of Jurgis is just a network to uncover the barbarism and cruelty of the upper class. 

Major Characters in The Jungle

  1. Jurgis Rudkus: A Lithuanian immigrant, Jurgis Rudkus is the protagonist of the novel. He is also the author’s mouthpiece as he critiques American capitalism and the American dream. Upton Sinclair outlines his main argument of anti-capitalism through his and his family’s plight in the meatpacking industry of Chicago. Despite his initial optimism and dedication to his family, Jurgis soon comes to know the machinations of the capitalistic class when he finds Ona being exploited by her boss, Connor, and himself in jail for assaulting him on this injustice. Finally, he comes to the point that his penury and inability to save his daughter and wife could not materialize his American dream for which the whole family has moved to this new land. After Antanas’s sad demise, he leaves the family but finally comes to know that even his alcoholism would not resolve his issues except his leanings toward the socialistic ideology.
  2. Ona Lukoszaite Rudkus: Although Ona is an educated and talented lady, her talent in the replenishing familial pursuit of the American dream comes to nothing when she becomes the victim and is severely exploited by her boss, Connor, during their stay in Packingtown. Despite her weaker conditions on account of her pregnancy, she takes the initiative of working hard to help out Jurgis whom she seems always engaged in some labor to pull the family out of penury. Her worsening situation does not discourage her, nor it dissuades her from doing her part of the job. She even does not complain and inform her husband about her exploitation and dies after she gives birth to a daughter. She proves that despite human efforts, natural and social forces prove an anathema in the way of realizing their dreams.
  3. Marija Berczynskas: Marija is another female member of the family who becomes a victim of exploitation and even violence. She still displays the courage to get revenge from the perpetrators. She also demonstrates this courage when she thrashes her employer before their migrating to Chicago. Her idea of settling in the United States and realizing her American dream, however, loses its steam when she comes to Chicago during the depression and loses her chance of marrying Tamoszius Kuszlekia, her co-worker. Her injury during her beef trimming jobs leads to her disability after the amputation of her hand, forcing her into prostitution from which she refuses to pull herself out despite the best efforts of Jurgis.
  4. Teta Elzbieta: A thoroughgoing pragmatist, Teta, Ona’s mother, is the matriarch of the family who knows the reality of their American dream deep down in her heart. That is why when Jurgis decides to join the socialist movement, she does not discourage him from this despite knowing that it would also come to nothing like their previous efforts. Despite living in the United States, her heart stays in Lithuania and she insists on the traditional Lithuanian marriage ceremony of Jurgis and Ona and tries to bet money in her stubbornness to stick to the traditions.
  5. Phil Connor: In his supervisory role of the loading crew in the factory in Chicago, Phil Connor represents the white color workers, a symbol of capitalism. Invested with great powers as the head of the department, he has formed relationships with political figures of the area to hide his abusive treatment toward the workers, the reason that he is involved in the sexual exploitation of Ona and yet gets arrested Jurgis when the latter assaults him for this crime. His way of making people silent with threats comes to light in the case of Ona and Marija. He even exploits the judiciary to come clean of his criminal behavior. His character is the representation of the rising elite class that works for the prevalence of the status quo for its interests.
  6. Mike Scully: A symbol of the democratic figure backing capitalism, Skully is an influential figure in Chicago’s Packingtown area, who keeps things working behind the scenes and does not let the commoners know her real personality. That is why Jurgis, despite working for him, does not know anything about his relationship with Connor and even is oblivious to his hands in the death of his family members.
  7. Antanas Rudkus: As the patriarch of the Rudkus, Antanas shows his responsible character when he tries his best to make his family succeed in the capitalistic environment of Packingtown. However, he comes to know the worth of the old people shortly after he lands in Chicago and dies during work in the factory.
  8. Nicholas Schliemann: Nicholas is a significant character in the novel. He seems to be a remedy or has an elixir of the ills the factory workers are suffering from. He represents a new breed of the proponents of socialism in the United States, working hard on giving voice to the poor.
  9. Antanas Rudkus: Antanas is the only son of the couple. The expectations the family has attached with him dash to the ground when he dies after he slips.

Writing Style of The Jungle

Upton Sinclair adopted a unique writing style in The Jungle as he narrates the story by weaving a fictional character and yet reporting the facts. The author highlights the conditions in the meatpacking industry, and how the workers remained poor, working in unhygienic conditions, and under appalling labor conditions. As far as the sentences and style are concerned, they are neither long nor short; just having enough length that shows the characters and the situations in which they are trapped. The diction is appropriate to the time and the characters. Sometimes, the readers notice wordy but that is the demand of the text such as in the case of speeches delivered by Jurgis.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Jungle

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the immigration of Jurgis Rudkus and his family to Chicago, their struggle to survive the appalling conditions, and Jurgis’ final decision to join the socialist movement. The rising action occurs when Ona finds herself sexually molested by Connor, while the falling action occurs when Jurgis goes back to his old job but does not find it waiting for him.
  2. Anaphora: The novel shows examples of anaphora. For example,
    i. She has not taken a drop, but every one else there is literally burning alcohol, as the lamps are burning oil; some of the men who are sound asleep in their chairs or on the floor are reeking of it so that you cannot go near them. (Chapter-I)
    ii. For he is an inspired man. Every inch of him is inspired—you might almost say inspired separately. (Chapter-1)
    iii. His whole soul was dancing with joy—he was at work at last! He was at work and earning money! (Chapter-4)
    The examples show the repetitious use of “burning”, “inspired” and “he was at work.”
  3. Allusion: The novel shows good use of different allusions as given in the below examples,
    i. For fear that the significance of all this should be lost, there was a label, in Polish, Lithuanian, and German—”Dom. Namai. Heim.” “Why pay rent?” the linguistic circular went on to demand. “Why not own your own home? (Chapter-4)
    ii. Jurgis had had enough to eat in the jail, and the work had been the least trying of any that he had done since he came to Chicago; but even so, he had not grown strong—the fear and grief that had preyed upon his mind had worn him thin. (Chapter-18)
    iii. “Wait,” he said. “He has something to say to me.” And then he looked into Jurgis’s face. “You want to know more about Socialism?” he asked. (Chapter-29)
    The first two examples show references to places, while the last one shows alluding to the political theory of socialism.
  4. Antagonist: Phil Connor is the antagonist of the novel as he appears to have tried his best to obstruct all avenues for Jurgis and his relatives not to work freely.
  5. Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Jurgis, Connor, and other capitalists about wages and profits. The internal conflict is going on in the mind of Jurgis that he is unable to support the females of his family and even the family itself.
  6. Characters: The novel shows both static as well as dynamic characters. Jurgis is a dynamic character as she shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation Ona, Marija, Elzbieta, and Connor.
  7. Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Jurgis comes to know about the rape of Ona when exploited by Connor, her boss. In rage, he attacks him and is arrested for the crime.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows as given in the below examples,
    i. It was four o’clock when the ceremony was over and the carriages began to arrive. There had been a crowd following all the way, owing to the exuberance of Marija Berczynskas. (Chapter-1)
    ii. Jurgis talked lightly about work, because he was young. They told him stories about the breaking down of men, there in the stockyards of Chicago, and of what had happened to them afterward—stories to make your flesh creep, but Jurgis would only laugh. (Chapter-2)
    The mention of happiness and work shows the something sinister is going to happen and make the readers sense it.
  9. Hyperbole: The novel shows various examples of hyperboles given below,
    i. There had been a heavy snow, and now a thaw had set in; fine sleety rain was falling, driven by a wind that pierced Jurgis to the bone. (Chapter-18)
    ii. Jurgis, who by this time would cheerfully have cracked the heads of all the gamblers in Chicago, inquired what would be coming to him. (Chapter-25)
    Both of these examples exaggerate things such as snow and the cracking of heads.
  10. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
    i. She stood in the doorway, shepherded by Cousin Marija, breathless from pushing through the crowd, and in her happiness painful to look upon. There was a light of wonder in her eyes and her lids trembled, and her otherwise wan little face was flushed. She wore a muslin dress, conspicuously white, and a stiff little veil coming to her shoulders. (Chapter-I)
    ii. On the uneven floor it was a task for a man to start one of these trucks, unless he was a giant; and when it was once started he naturally tried his best to keep it going. There was always the boss prowling about, and if there was a second’s delay he would fall to cursing; Lithuanians and Slovaks and such, who could not understand what was said to them, the bosses were wont to kick about the place like so many dogs. (Chapter-5)
    These two examples show images of color, sound, and feelings.
  11. Metaphor: The Jungle shows excellent use of various metaphors as given in the below examples,
    i. Suddenly some of the steam begins to advance, and, peering through it, you discern Aunt Elizabeth, Ona’s stepmother—Teta Elzbieta, as they call her— bearing aloft a great platter of stewed duck. (Chapter-I)
    ii. So, after all, there was a crack in the fine structure of Jurgis’ faith in things as they are. The crack was wide while Dede Antanas was hunting a job—and it was yet wider when he finally got it. (Chapter-6)
    iii. All this while that he was seeking for work, there was a dark shadow hanging over Jurgis; as if a savage beast were lurking somewhere in the pathway of his life, and he knew it, and yet could not help approaching the place. (Chapter-14)
    These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel as the first shows the comparison of steam with a train or something like that, the second shows the difference as cracks and the third shows the job or work as a shadow.
  12. Mood: The novel shows various moods; it starts with a happy and jovial mood but suddenly turns to tragic when a child dies in the family and then vacillates between good, bad, and sometimes simmering.
  13. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, The Jungle, are weathers, power, family, corruption, and traditions.
  14. Narrator: The novel is narrated in the third-person point of view, who is the author.
  15. Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications as given in the examples below,
    i. Suddenly some of the steam begins to advance, and, peering through it, you discern Aunt Elizabeth, Ona’s stepmother—Teta Elzbieta, as they call her— bearing aloft a great platter of stewed duck. (Chapter-I)
    ii. Sometimes, in desperate hours, he would find himself wishing that she might learn what it was, so that he need not be ashamed in her presence. (Chapter-14)
    These examples show as if the steam and hours have life and emotions of their own.
  16. Protagonist: Jurgis is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry on the scene and moves forward as he works and fails and then joins the socialists.
  17. Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places as given in the below examples,
    i. There was poor old ponas Jokubas, for instance—he had already given five dollars, and did not every one know that Jokubas Szedvilas had just mortgaged his delicatessen store for two hundred dollars to meet several months’ overdue rent? (Chapter-I)
    ii. So this grim old women went on with her tale of horrors. How much of it was exaggeration—who could tell? It was only too plausible. There was that about consumption, for instance. (Chapter-6)
    This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed but different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
  18. Setting: The setting of the novel is Packingtown, the suburb of Chicago.
  19. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes as given in the below examples,
    i. The sweat starts out on his forehead, and he bends over like a cyclist on the last lap of a race. His body shakes and throbs like a runaway steam engine, and the ear cannot follow the flying showers of notes—there is a pale blue mist where you look to see his bowing arm. (Chapter-1)
    ii. It was the week before Christmas that the first storm came, and then the soul of Jurgis rose up within him like a sleeping lion. (Chapter-11)
    iii. The word rang through him like the sound of a bell, echoing in the far depths of him, making forgotten chords to vibrate, old shadowy fears to stir—fears of the dark, fears of the void, fears of annihilation. (Chapter-19)
    These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.