The JungleThe Jungle
By Upton Sinclair
The Jungle portrays the lower ranks of the industrial world as the scene of a naked struggle for survival. Where workers not only are forced to compete with each other but, if they falter, are hard pressed to keep starvation from their door and a roof over their heads. With unions weak and cheap labor plentiful, a social Darwinist state of the survival of the fittest exists. The real story revolves around the integration and eventual disintegration of Jurgis Rudkis and his family, Lithuanian immigrants who move to the Chicago stockyards in hopes of a better life. Unfortunately, their hopes quickly disintegrate; like thousands of other unskilled immigrants at the turn of the century, financial necessity forces them into virtual slave labor in order to survive. For Jurgis and his family, the slave master is the ruthless and greedy meat packing industry, whose leaders value their workers no more than the animals they slaughter.
The Jungle shows the relationship between the animals that were being slaughtered and the workers who were slaughtering them, from very early in the novel. It compares the workers to the animals who are penned up and killed every day in the stockyards, which are moved along on conveyer belts by machinery that cares nothing for their individual desires. In the monotonous killing of each of the hogs, They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold blooded, impersonal way, without a pretense of apology without the homage of a tear.(Pg. 35) The key comparison is the condition of the workingmen; as cold, efficient machinery assimilates them, a blind fate swallows them up. A few of the men are even swallowed up literally when they would fall into huge vats and emerges as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard. (Pg. 99) The Jungle also shows precisely how wounded, diseased, and pregnant animals are turned into food under just the same unhealthy conditions that soon leave healthy men wounded and diseased; There was no heat upon the killing beds; the men might as well have worked out of doors all winter?. On the killing beds you were apt to be covered with blood, and it would freeze solid; if you leaned against a pillar, you would freeze to that, and if you put your hand upon the blade of your knife, you would run a chance of leaving your skin on it. (Pg. 79 ; 80) Grotesque injuries were inevitable, injuries for which the company would rarely take responsibility. While a man was laid up his family could starve or freeze to death, and after a series of such injuries, if he survived, he would be too crippled to go on doing the work. When Jurgis is healthy and overflowing with life, he gets a job immediately. When he becomes an empty husk of his former self he is reduced to beggary. Even among beggars he finds a jungle of savage competition, in which the truly needy are often at a disadvantage.
And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. (Pg. 35) Here is another part of the story that shows the relationship between the animals and the people of packing town. Immigrants with peasant backgrounds, and even migrants from America’s own rural regions, are especially ill equipped to survive the urban jungle because of their stubborn individualism. Jurgis relies on his own strong back to carry his family, to cope with inhuman work, but he simply becomes a screw in the industrial machine, to be discarded as soon as he shows the signs of being broken. Jurgis and his family are desperate to own something, to be on their own, to make them feel more apart of their new country. To try to make their American dreams come true.
And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid fate waited in his pathway. (Pg. 35) Jurgis and his family tried as much as they possibly could to hold on to their hopes and dreams of truly succeeding in this town. Jurgis was the worst of all of them with his famous saying Leave it to me; leave it to me. I will earn more money- I will work harder. (Pg. 19) Even after Grandmother Majauszkiene told the family about the history of the house they lived in. How each of the families came in with the same hopes and dreams. Each time only being crushed by the jungle that they lived in. (pg. 65) Jurgis and his family were not going to give up they were going to be the ones who defeated the odds that were up against them. They were going to rise on top of this whole mess and live to tell the stories of the way it used to be. Each of them not realizing what they were in for, not knowing what the jungle had up its sleeve.
Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it-it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life. (Pg. 35) This passage, explaining the brutality of the slaying of the animals in the stockyards, also shows how similar the lives of the workers or the people of packing town were to the animals being killed. The passage also resembles the turning point in Jugis’ life when everything seems to fall apart. Starting from when Jurgis sprains his ankle and all the cursing and protesting did him nothing. Leaving him paralyzed and helpless from doing any sort of good for his family. Like the thumbscrew of the medieval torture chamber(pg. 109) the jungle starts to squeeze its grip around Jurgis’ neck when he finds out that the love of his life, Ona, has passed away trying to give birth to her supervisor’s baby. Then to finish him off, squeezing out his last breathe of air, his son, little Antanas drowns out in the street while playing outside, taking away the only thing left that was precious to him.
And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a God of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hogs squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice? (Pg. 36) This passage represents after all Jurgis went through, after all the work, pain, and suffering he has lived there had to be something out there for him. There had to be something to show him the meaning of his sacrifices. It is then that he happens upon a Socialist political meeting. At this point, Jurgis truly is a beaten man. However, when he listens to the political speaker, he finds that he expresses the essence of all his pain and frustration. He takes Socialism to his heart, believing that it is the only political philosophy that can save his kind.
They were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests-and so perfectly within their rights!(Pg. 35) This is exactly how each of the immigrant families came over to America just like the hogs, cattle, sheep and many other animals that came into to the stockyards of Chicago only to find that a shadow of a deadly fate was awaiting their arrival. Each family arrived with hopes and dreams of succeeding in this free country were they could work for honest wages and live peacefully, but with each dream and hope came death and despair. It was a huge rat race, in which it was every man for himself, but not even the strongest could survive in this urban jungle for only the wealthy and corrupt were the ones who made it to the top.