The JungleThe book I read was The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. This story is both fact, and fiction.
The true part about it is the meat packing part. The fiction part, I don’t know, I don’t know if
Jurgis was real or not.
The story opens with the feast at Jurgis and Ona’s wedding in America, but soon flashes
back to the time before they left Lithuania. Jurgis met Ona at a horse fair, and fell in love with
her. Unfortunately, they were too poor to have a wedding, since Ona’s father just died. In the
hopes of finding freedom and fortune, they left for America, bringing many members of Ona’s
family with them.
After arriving in America, they are taken to Packingtown to find work. Packingtown is a
section of Chicago where the meat packing industry is centralized. They take a tour of the plant,
and see the unbelievable efficiency and speed at which hogs and cattle are butchered, cooked,
packed, and shipped. In Packingtown, no part of the animal is wasted. The tour guide specifically
says “They use everything about the hog except the squeal,” (The Jungle, page 38).
Jurgis’s brawny build quickly gets him a job on the cattle killing beds. The other
members of the family soon find jobs, except for the children. They are put into school. At first,
Jurgis is happy with his job and America, but he soon learns that America is plagued by
corruption, dishonesty, and bribery. He is forced to work at high speeds for long hours with low
pay, and so is the rest of the family. He is cheated out of his money several times. The children
must leave school and go to work to help the family survive. This means they will never receive
the education they need to rise above this. Ona is not permitted to take a holiday, even for her
After the birth of her first son, Antanas, Ona soon becomes pregnant again. She becomes
very upset, but will not tell Jurgis why. After she fails to come home one night, Jurgis confronts
her. She breaks into tears and tells Jurgis that a foreman named Connor has forced a sexual
relationship on her. Jurgis curses her and runs off to find Connor.
After beating Connor to a pulp, Jurgis is sent to jail for thirty days. The judge refuses to
listen to Jurgis’s story seriously. When Jurgis is released, he finds that his family has moved to
an even poorer neighborhood, and Ona is in labor at that very moment. Neither the baby, nor
Ona, who went into labor two months early, survive. Jurgis pulls himself together for the sake of
Antanas and gets a job. When Antanas drowns in the mud-filled street, Jurgis gives up on
Packingtown and his family. He hops aboard a passing train, and leaves Chicago.
Jurgis enjoys a “hobo” life, wandering across the country. When winter comes, he is
forced to return to Chicago. He gets into a fight in a bar and is sent to jail. In jail, he meets Jack
Duane, an experienced criminal. After being freed from jail, Jurgis and Duane team up in a
luxurious, but risky life of crime. Jurgis learns about the connections between criminals, police,
politics, and big business. He becomes a member of this complex network and moves into
politics. He runs into Connor again, and beats him to a pulp a second time. Connor’s political
connections cause Jurgis to lose all his acquired profit. Jurgis is back to wandering the streets.
To keep warm, Jurgis walks into a Socialist meeting. After the meeting, he is introduced
to a man named Ostrinski, who teaches Jurgis about Socialism. Jurgis agrees completely with the
political party’s ideals, and becomes an active member. As the story ends, the results of an
election are being received. The novel concludes on a positive note, showing that the Socialist
party made significant progress all across the country.
This book describes the horrors of the meat packing industry in great detail. People were
forced to work from before sunrise to after sunset. In the meat preserving plants, the floors were
never dry. The workers would catch horrible foot diseases, causing them to loose toes and
eventually entire legs. The butchers would be forced to move at a blinding pace, often cutting
themselves and others. They would still have to work though, or loose their job. Often, the
wounds would become infected, and the butcher would die of blood poisoning.
The book discusses all the things that were being shipped out to the civilized world as
“meat”. Sausages were not really made of sausage meat. They were mostly composed of “potato
flour”; an odorless and tasteless potato extract with almost no food value. There were the cattle
that had been fed “whiskey malt”; the refuse of breweries. These animals would become
“steerly”, or covered with boils. “It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged you knife
into them they would burst and splash foul-smelling stuff in your face,” (The Jungle, page 99).
According to law, diseased meat could not be sold out of the state. However, there were no laws
restricting it’s sale inside the state. As a result, the tuberculosis-infected hog meat never left
Packingtown. It was sold to the meat workers at inflated prices.
There are many characters in The Jungle. These characters vary widely in their
professions, social status, and economic status. The main character in the novel is a Lithuanian
named Jurgis Rudkus. I think he was an O.K. guy, but in the end, I can see what he did. His wife
is Ona Lukoszaite, also a Lithuanian. I thought she did the right thing, about the problems with
Connor. They have a son named Antanas.
Mike Scully is a powerful political leader in Packingtown. Phil Connor is a foreman in
Packingtown, “politically connected” (through Scully), and a man who causes much trouble for
Jurgis. I didn’t like him because of what he did to Ona. Jack Duane is an experienced and
educated criminal who is also “politically connected”.
The entire book was meaningful to me. The thing that was meaningful in a bad way was
the Packingtown its self. Another thing that shocked me while reading the novel was the cruelty
to animals. The animals were packed in freight cars, and shipped across the country. Many of
them died on the trip. Once reaching Packingtown, each hog had a chain fastened around its leg,
was hoisted into the air, and carried into a room where its throat was slit. When the cattle reached
Packingtown, they were stunned by electric shock, and dropped onto a conveyor belt, where a
man with a sledgehammer pierced their skulls. These animals existed in very poor conditions,
especially the “steerly” cattle that developed boils. Despite the cruel conditions, the anti-
American sentiment, and the one-sided views, the novel was well-written. Upton Sinclair did an
excellent job of describing the massive organization and efficiency of Packingtown. It is clear
that he despised Packingtown, for being a center of Capitalism and for its working conditions,
but he was impressed with it. Packingtown slaughtered, processed, packed, and shipped hundreds
of thousands of cattle and hogs every day. It ran twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and
never stopped. Even during holidays and during union strikes, Packingtown still ran at full speed.
Now that I have read The Jungle, I am amazed that our country survived to be the world
superpower it is today. I am even more amazed that we did not all die from eating food made in
such poor conditions. The novel did not persuade me to become a Socialist, but I did consider a
vegetarian lifestyle. Nevertheless, I think it was a book everyone should read..