Word Count: 1546. This book was a fact. Upton Sinclair visited Chicago in November 1904 to do research for the book. Sinclair lived in a neighborhood called Packingtown for seven weeks.
While in Packingtown, Sinclair interviewed workers, lawyers, doctors, saloonkeepers, and social workers. The book deals with the greed and ruthless competition that turned America into a brutal country, which Sinclair referred to as a “jungle.” It also tells how those at the bottom of the economic ladder, who were wage-earners and their families, are at a great disadvantage in the capitalist country. The wage-earners are slaves to the sudden wishes of their masters, who are the capitalists who own and run private industries.
The Jungle starts with the marriage of Ona Lukoszaite and Jurgis Rudkus in America, which was organized by Ona’s cousin Marija. The novel then flashes back to their lives in a rural Lithuanian town and how their families, Ona’s stepmother Elzbieta, and her five children, Jurgis’ father, and four other adults, thought that America would be such a great place to live in and decided to move to America.
The day after the wedding is over, everyone was back to work, and Jurgis and Ona’s married life was cheerless. The pressures of work, poverty, and illness stifled the family’s spirits, and then Dede Antanas, Jurgis’ dad, died. After Jurgis gives his father an inexpensive funeral, he decides to join the Union and begins to learn English and gets an unfriendly opinion of democracy. Jurgis begins to see how the packers operate. They sell spoiled or contaminated meat without remorse. Workers are exposed to awful occupational diseases without protection.
Then, Ona gives birth to a baby boy. The family’s third winter in America starts with Jurgis getting injured on the job, and Jonas, Elzbieta’s brother, disappearing, leaving the family’s income to decrease by one third. When Jurgis recovers and goes to get his job back, he finds it gone and must find another job. He finds a job at Durham’s Fertilizer Plant. Because of the smell of the plant, Jurgis starts to drink. He then finds out that Ona is pregnant again, and he isn’t the father. Ona’s boss, Phil Connor, threatened to fire everyone in her family if she did not submit herself to him. Jurgis nearly kills Connor when he finds out and is sent to jail.
When Jurgis is let out of jail, he finds his family evicted from the house they tried so hard to keep and back to the lodging house where the family was when they first arrived. Upon finding the family, Ona is giving birth, and Jurgis persuades a midwife to help, to no benefit, and Ona and the baby die.
Jurgis wants to leave, but because of his son, Antanas, Jurgis stays and gets a job then is laid off, so Jurgis gets a job at a steel plant, then his son accidentally drowns. Jurgis then becomes a runaway. After an on-the-job injury lands Jurgis in the hospital, he joins the army of unemployed men hunting for work. During a high unemployment time in January 1904, Jurgis starts begging and meets the drunken son of a meatpacking family and goes home with him.
When he leaves the family, he is full and has a $100 bill. When a bartender cheats Jurgis out of the money, he attacks him and is arrested and jailed. Jurgis then goes to the stockyards as an undercover worker for the Democratic boss. Jurgis promotes the boss’s choice for representative, the Republican candidate. Jurgis then gets a foreman job and takes bribes from his men and beats up strikers for the packers.
A second attack on Phil Connor lands Jurgis in jail again. Jurgis then posts bail and flees, going back to begging. He meets an old friend who gives him Marija’s address. He finds her and discovers she is a prostitute and drug addict. Then Jurgis walks in a political rally to keep warm. An emotional public speaker converts Jurgis to socialism and his life takes a new turn; he’s given a new job as a porter in a hotel owned by a socialist.
The novel ends on election night in 1904, where Jurgis learns his party has made a strong showing. Upton Sinclair is trying to tell the readers of The Jungle how bad it was for wage-earners in the early 1900s. Because workers were often ignorant of their own best interests, they would unknowingly take steps to defeat them. Workers would back the wrong candidates, manufacture goods that might harm them, and break strikes that could benefit them. Jurgis beat up the strikers for the packers, and he was most likely harming himself because the strikers were striking for more sanitary conditions.
Industrial Capitalism is an efficient, impersonal “slaughtering machine” that sacrificed its workers. Businesses took no responsibility for their workers. They used up the strong and young and discarded the weak and old. If workers got too old or were unable to work hard or fast enough, the companies fired them and replaced them with young, fast, and strong workers until they were too old and weak to work. This cycle continued with the young workers becoming old, and being replaced with young workers.
I found it extremely hard to pick a couple of characters that I liked because I would like them in the beginning, but then later on in the novel, they would do something that made them not be one of my favorite characters. I could only find one character that I really liked, and the one character that I particularly liked was Elzbieta Lukoszaite, Ona’s beloved stepmother. I like Elzbieta because she was a link between the Old World and the New World throughout the novel. She insisted on a traditional wedding for Ona and a proper funeral for her son Kristoforas when he died. She begged for money for a funeral march when Ona died and persuaded Jurgis to stay in America for his son’s sake.
She was predictable and poised. Although you find out all of these things about her, you don’t really get to know her in the story. At the end, though sick and being supported largely by Marija’s prostitution, she attended Socialist meetings with Jurgis; yet they meant nothing to her; she planned her meals during the speeches. Elzbieta always did things for others, even if they didn’t interest her.
She also wanted to properly honor her family members that had died and she didn’t let others forget about the Old World. One character that I didn’t like was Freddie Jones, son of the wealthy meat packer Old Man Jones. Freddie was out of town when he found Jurgis begging. He tells Jurgis that they are in the same position. “No money either,” Freddie tells Jurgis. His father had left him with less than two thousand dollars in his pocket, which is more.
I do think that Upton Sinclair used Freddie Jones to show the insensitivity of the rich to the difficulty of the poor because Freddie can’t make the ingenious leap required to understand Jurgis’s poverty. A moving moment in this novel to me was all of the tragedies that happen to Jurgis. First off, shortly after Jurgis and Ona marry, Dede Antanas, Jurgis’s father, dies. Jurgis has the pressures of work, poverty, and illness to worry about, plus he has to have a funeral for his father that won’t bankrupt the family.
But don’t forget how Jurgis is constantly getting injured on the job, causing the family income to decrease every time. Then when Ona gets pregnant again, and Jurgis finds out that the baby isn’t his, he is devastated, and then nearly kills Ona’s boss and is put in jail. When things are finally looking better for Jurgis when he is released from jail, he finds Ona in labor, and then Ona and the baby die due to complications. Jurgis wanted to leave Chicago but stayed because his son, Antanas, was there. He stayed and got a job with a maker of farm equipment, and then is laid off but finds a job at a steel plant.
Things are taking a slight turn for the better when Antanas accidentally drowns in flood waters. Jurgis’s whole life is full of tragedies with the deaths of the people he loved and carried about, that is why I found his tragedies to be the most meaningful to me. I can honestly say that I would not have chosen to read The Jungle. But once I started reading the novel, I really got into it.
At some points, I couldn’t put the book down, while at other points, I could hardly stand to read anymore. I thought that the book was good because it showed how life was for immigrants who came to America in search of a better life but, unfortunately, were misled and found America to be much like the countries they came from. I also thought the book was good because it showed how the people in America treated the immigrants; the book didn’t try to make anything less than what it really was, it made it what it really was. For example, when Upton Sinclair was stating the horrible conditions existing in meat factories, he didn’t try to make it better than it was, he used words to describe the actual conditions. I would recommend this book to other people because of its truthfulness in its descriptions.