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The Jungle
Upton Sinclair



The wedding feast of Jurgis Rudkus and Ona Lukoszaite, immigrants from Lithuania, begins exuberantly and ends in disappointment in the back room of a Chicago saloon. Most of the guests are drunk and exhausted. The thought of having to return to work in the stockyards in a few short hours further depresses them.

For the newlyweds' relatives- especially Marija Berczynskas, Ona's cousin and the organizer of the festivities- there is further reason for despair. In the old country, the guests chipped in to pay for the wedding party and to leave the newlyweds a little extra money with which to start their married life. Yet here in Packingtown, the stockyard district of Chicago, the old communal traditions are dying out among the immigrant workers. So many freeloaders have come to the party that Jurgis and Ona must begin their married life in debt.

Still, Jurgis faces the future bravely. "Leave it to me," he tells Ona. "I will earn more money- I will work harder."

Jurgis first saw Ona a year and a half earlier, at a fair in Lithuania, where he had gone to sell two of his father's horses. She was fourteen, and he was about twenty five. It was love at first sight for Jurgis, but Ona's father, "a rich man," would not let Jurgis have her. The next time he saw her, her father had died, the farm had been sold, and the family was adrift. Still, Ona's attachment to her stepmother, Elzbieta, kept her from marrying Jurgis.

Jonas, Elzbieta's brother, suggested that they might have a better future in America, where a friend had become rich in a city named Chicago. They set out- six adults (including Jurgis's father, Dede Antanas) and Elzbieta's six children- in early summer.

Once in Chicago, the first order of business was to find shelter and work. Jonas's friend, Kokubas Szedvilas, a poor delicatessen owner, acted as their guide. He sent them to a filthy lodging house, where they determined to stay only until they got work.

Jurgis found work as a sweeper on the killing beds at Brown's, a meat-packing company. Marija found work as a can painter, and Jonas got a job pushing a truck at Durham's, Brown's rival. Though at first Dede Antanas couldn't find work, they decided they could afford to buy a "new" house, using some of their savings as a down payment. Finally, Dede Antanas got a job in the damp "pickle room" at Durham's by promising to kick back a third of his salary to the man who hired him.

That experience and others began to shake Jurgis's faith in America. Both Jonas and Marija had gotten their jobs through the misfortunes of others. In his job Antanas had to shovel the residue of chemically treated meat onto a truck headed for the cannery. Jurgis saw pregnant cows butchered and their unborn calves illegally mixed with other carcasses. He even helped butcher cattle that had died before reaching the slaughterhouse.

His faith was further shaken when he heard their house was not in fact new. The previous four families had lost the house when they couldn't keep up monthly payments. Jurgis also finds out there were hidden charges to be paid each month- for interest, taxes, and so on.

Ona got a job sewing covers on hams, and 14-year-old Stanislovas convinced a priest to certify he was sixteen- old enough to hold a job. Stanislovas then joined the army of child workers by getting a job at Durham's placing empty cans under jets of lard, 10 hours a day, six days a week, for five cents an hour. Working this way, the family was able to save enough money for the November wedding of Ona and Jurgis.

All are back at work the morning after the wedding- mostly dead on their feet from exhaustion. Jurgis and Ona's married life is cheerless. The pressures of work, poverty, and illness stifle their spirits. Jurgis's father, Antanas, sickens and dies, and Jurgis, learning fast, negotiates a funeral that won't bankrupt the family.

Winter comes, an agony for Packingtown. Homeless men who had spent the warmer months in the country, working on farms, clamor at the gates of the packing houses, looking for work. Inside the plants, there is no heat, except in the cooking rooms. At lunch break, the men race to "Whiskey Row," where, for the price of a drink or two, they can keep warm and get a "free" lunch. Jurgis takes only one drink, for he has Ona to think about. The house is cold, and many nights they sleep with their clothes on.

Marija and Tamoszius Kuszleika fall in love, but the canning factory where Marija works shuts down, and they must postpone their wedding. A general business slowdown means that Jurgis gets only about a half day's paid work, though he must spend all day on the killing floor.

Angry, Jurgis joins the union and has the other working members of his family join as well. He begins to learn English. He also acquires a cynical opinion of democracy. A Democratic party member helps him become a citizen and vote for the candidates of the local Democratic boss, Mike Scully. In exchange for his vote, Jurgis gets two dollars and two hours off work, with pay.

He begins to see how the packers operate. They sell spoiled or adulterated meat without qualms. Their workers are exposed to awful occupational diseases, yet the packers take no steps to protect the employees. They steal water from the city and pollute the Chicago River- and the city government looks the other way.

Jurgis's family struggles through their second winter in America. Spring comes, with its flooding rains, and then summer, with its stifling heat. Marija's factory reopens, but she loses her job anyway and becomes a meat trimmer at half her first wage. Ona has a baby boy and harms her health by returning to work prematurely.

Their third winter, Jurgis injures himself on the job and is out of work for three months. When spring arrives, Jonas simply disappears, reducing the family's income by a third. Two of Elzbieta's boys leave school to sell newspapers. When Jurgis feels fit to work, he finds his old job gone. Finally, he takes a Job at Durham's fertilizer plant. Elzbieta goes to work, and the boys go to school again. Jurgis, a pariah because of the smell of fertilizer he carries with him, starts to drink. Ona is pregnant again and prey to fits of weeping. Jurgis discovers that she has been sleeping with Phil Connor, one of the bosses, who threatened to have everyone in her family fired if she didn't submit to him. Jurgis nearly kills Connor and is sent to jail. Stanislovas visits him and reports that Ona is sick, Marija injured, and the family almost starving. Their only income is from what the children can earn selling newspapers.

After his release from jail, Jurgis discovers that the family has been evicted from the house they had struggled so hard to keep. They are back in the lodging house where they first lived when they came to the city. Jurgis finds Ona in labor and persuades a midwife to help, to no avail. Ona and the baby die.

Because of his little son Antanas, Jurgis stays and gets a job with a maker of farm equipment. After nine days, his department closes, and Jurgis is laid off. He gets another job at a steel plant. When his son accidentally drowns, Jurgis turns his back on Chicago and becomes a hobo. In the fall he returns to the city and gets a job digging a tunnel. An on-the-job injury puts him in the hospital. After he gets out, he joins the army of unemployed men hunting for work during a recession in January 1904.

He starts begging and meets the drunken scion of a meat-packing family. Jurgis goes home with him and leaves with a full stomach and a hundred-dollar bill. When a bartender cheats him out of the money Jurgis attacks him, is arrested and jailed.

Released again, he returns to crime, tutored by a former cellmate named Jack Duane. Jurgis learns how Chicago's criminal underworld helps to corrupt the city's government. Through Buck Halloran, a district leader, he learns how graft works, and he learns about "pull."

Jurgis returns to the stockyards as an undercover operative of the Democratic boss. He promotes the boss's choice for alderman- the Republican candidate. Jurgis's man wins, and Jurgis stays on in the stockyards. In June, the butcher's union strikes. Jurgis gets a foreman's job, takes bribes from his men, and beats up strikers for the packers. A second attack on Phil Connor lands him in jail again. Jurgis posts bail and flees.

He goes back to begging. He meets an old friend who gives him Marija's address. When he tracks her down, he discovers she is a prostitute and a drug addict. Stanislovas is dead, she explains- eaten by rats. The others are alive, living mainly on Marija's earnings.

That night he walks into a political rally to keep warm. An emotional orator converts him to socialism, and his life takes a new turn. He is given a job as porter in a hotel owned by a socialist. He lives with Elzbieta and her children, but cannot convince Marija to change her life. Jurgis throws himself into socialism. The novel ends on election night in 1904. At a Socialist party gathering, Jurgis learns that his party has made a strong showing. A speaker exhorts the crowd to organize the workers so that "Chicago will be ours!"

[The Jungle Contents]


Sinclair populates The Jungle with characters from nearly every walk of life and social class. He gives 60 of them names. Dozens of others go nameless, although their actions help shape the destinies of the major characters. Together, the men, women, and children in The Jungle suggest the vibrant and varied life of America during the early years of the 20th century.

The suggestion is intentional on Sinclair's part, since his goal is to expose an entire social system- the ruthlessly competitive capitalist democracy that is the chief villain of his story. He seeks to prove that all who come into contact with the system are brutalized and corrupted by it.

A brief analysis of some of the important characters follows. The characters are listed in the order of their appearance.


    Marija, Ona's cousin, is one of the most striking characters in the novel. She is the one we'd bet on if asked to predict which member of the family had the best chance of surviving. When we meet her on the first page, she is in charge of the wedding feast, seeing that "the best home traditions" are respected. Later we learn that she has a "face full of boundless good nature and the muscles of a dray horse"- characteristics that helped her get her first job in America, painting cans.

    Yet she has a softness about her, as well. Tamoszius discovers this and falls in love with her.

    By the end of the novel, however, she is a whore and dope addict, burned-out at the age of 24 or 25. Her remarkable health has disappeared with the Old World values that served her so poorly. She now takes "the business point of view"; prostitution is simply a way of making a living in the new world- of surviving. "When people are starving," she says, "and they have anything with a price, they ought to sell it, I say."

    What has happened to bring down this female counterpart of Jurgis? She has had a lot of discouragement: job injuries, layoffs, her family's dissolution. The final blow must have been Tamoszius's disappearance after he lost a finger and could no longer play the violin. We see her in the final chapter, having given herself up to her fate. "I'll stay here till I die, I guess. It's all I'm fit for."


    Ona is her husband's opposite, and Sinclair introduces her as such. She is "blue-eyed and fair, while Jurgis had great black eyes with beetling brows." She has some education: he has none. She is tiny "small for her age, a mere child"; Jurgis is huge, with "mighty shoulders" and "giant hands." Clearly, she's going to need protection in the predatory environment of Chicago. The question from the start is whether Jurgis can provide it. In the end, he cannot. She dies in childbirth at the age of 18, four years after they'd met and two years after they'd married, having lived less than three years in America.

    The years between are brutal and take their toll on her body and mind. Too timid to assert herself, she is cheated out of a trolley transfer and must walk through rain to her job sewing covers on hams. After childbirth, she returns to work too early and suffers "womb trouble." Her coughing suggests she may have tuberculosis. She suffers "fearful nervousness" and "fits of aimless weeping"- all attributable, we later learn, to her secret life as mistress of a boss who is forcing her to submit to him. "He would have ruined us," she told Jurgis. "I only did it- to save us."

    Was hers a heroic act, as some readers suggest? Or is she simply a passive victim- an easy prey for all the forces arrayed against immigrant workers in industrial America? The correct answer probably lies somewhere in between. Unable to afford proper medical help, she dies in agony trying to bear a stillborn child.


    A young Lithuanian immigrant, Jurgis is the book's central character. He is a naif- a familiar figure in literature- who gains wisdom after a series of batterings push him into the pit of despair. His discovery of socialism points the way out, and at the end of the novel he becomes a convert, happily immersed in a movement that promises to bring economic democracy to America.

    Jurgis is the only character whose interior life is explored. Yet Sinclair's handling of his emotions, moods, and thoughts doesn't add much to our knowledge of him. Like the other characters, he is revealed most vividly through his actions and losses.

    Jurgis's primary goal is to protect Ona, and when he reaches America, he has every confidence he can do so. He is strong, young, and eager to work, and a true believer in "rugged individualism"- self-reliance. But the forces of greed overpower him. A real estate agent cons the family into buying a house they can't afford. Then after a job injury lays him up for three months, he loses his job and must accept one in a fertilizer plant. In the end, he can't protect Ona. She is forced into prostitution and dies trying to give birth to a second child. Economic forces, due to a slack in demand, cost him a job at a farm equipment plant. After his son drowns, he quits another job at a steel plant and spends a summer on the road, experimenting with freedom from responsibility. Back in Chicago, he gets a job digging a tunnel. An injury lands him in the hospital.

    After these events, he sinks into a life of crime as a foe of society. He becomes a mugger and a grafter. He dupes fellow workers as an undercover operative for the Democratic machine. He helps break up a strike, then ends up in jail a third time. Once more he becomes a homeless man, a beggar. So much for rugged individualism!

    It is by chance that he is saved. He walks into a Socialist rally for warmth and becomes swept up in the movement. Here, at last, is an explanation for his woes and a road map to utopia. Socialism revives his dignity, strength, and self-confidence because he is now a member of something larger than himself, not merely an individual. In the last scene, he vanishes into an audience of two thousand Socialists who are attending an election-night rally.


    Ona's beloved stepmother, and herself the mother of six children, Elzbieta remains a link between the Old World and the New throughout the novel. She insists on a traditional wedding for Ona and a proper funeral for her son Kristoforas, when he dies. She begs money for a requiem mass when Ona dies and persuades Jurgis to stay on for his son's sake. She is ready, predictable, even stoic. She is "one of the primitive creatures: like the angleworm, which goes on living though cut in half.... She did this because it was her nature- she asked no questions about the justice of it, nor the worthwhileness of life in which destruction and death ran riot."

    Although we know all these things about her, we don't really get to know her. At the end, though sick and being supported largely by Marija's prostitution, she attends Socialist meetings with Jurgis; yet they mean nothing to her- she plans her meals during the speeches.


    Kotrina, Elzbieta's daughter, suffers the fate of many working-class females when she has to shoulder the burden of keeping house at age 13. She is "prematurely made old," Sinclair tells us. Like her brothers, she eventually goes out to sell newspapers and becomes the most successful of them all.


    This wise old woman, the first Socialist we meet, seems to enjoy being the bearer of bad news. It is she who tells the family that the real estate agent swindled them. Sinclair describes her as a witch- "unrelenting, typifying fate." Like Shakespeare's witches, she foreshadows the future. The family's house, she says, is "unlucky."


    Tamoszius is a slaughterhouse worker and also a self-taught musician, whose energy inspires the gaiety of the wedding feast, despite his lack of talent. His love for Marija (his opposite in size and manner) is doomed; the two can never get enough money together to marry. After he loses a finger on the job and can no longer play the violin, he disappears. He is a comic figure and, ultimately, a tragic one. A Socialist, he is proof that the creed is not every convert's salvation.


    Jurgis's father is a touching figure, who thinks he is dying when we first meet him at the wedding feast. He is sixty years old but looks eighty. His gloomy speech, delivered amid consumptive coughs, throws the mood of the feast off-kilter.

    While working in the pickle (chemical) room at Durham's, the old man contracts tuberculosis and sores that never heal on his feet. But, a proud man, he continues working almost until his death.


    Jokubas is the friend of Jonas whose mythical success in America lures the families of Jurgis and Ona to Chicago. Actually, he is a delicatessen owner who has had to mortgage his store to pay back rent. He finds the newcomers a place to stay and takes them on a tour of the packing plants. His sarcastic comments annoy Jurgis, as does his advice not to buy a house. In both cases, he is proven right.


    A "little woman, with a wrinkled face," Aniele is the rheumatic widow whose "unthinkably filthy" lodging house becomes the newcomers' first home in Chicago. She supports her three children by raising chickens and taking in wash and lodgers. After Ona and her family are evicted from their house, she rents her garret to them. There, Ona dies and, later, little Antanas drowns outside the house.


    Elzbieta's brother is the one who suggests the family emigrate to America, where "a friend of his had gotten rich." In Chicago, he gets work pushing a hand truck and likes "to smoke his pipe in peace before... bed." One Saturday night he picks up his pay and disappears. Though the family's income is reduced by a third, no one blames him. "He paid good board, and was yet obliged to live in a family where nobody had enough to eat."


    Stanislovas, one of Elzbieta's children, is the center of Sinclair's expose of child labor; he goes to work at a lard machine at age fourteen. His shock at seeing a young worker lose his ears from frostbite gives him a pathological fear of cold. To get him to work on cold days, Jurgis must beat him. Eventually, Stanislovas loses his job and goes into the streets to sell newspapers. He falls asleep in an old oil factory after drinking too much beer, and rats eat him alive.


    Harper, one of Scully's henchmen, is the night watchman who helps Jurgis become naturalized, so that he can vote the Democratic ticket. Later he gets Jurgis a job at Durham's as an undercover political worker for Mike Scully, the Democratic boss.


    Scully is the corrupt political boss of the stockyards district. A puppet of the packers, he nevertheless has a lot of power. Through a number of crooked schemes, he obtains enough money to bribe officials and pay for votes.


    Ona gets her job sewing covers on hams by paying a bribe to her forelady, Miss Henderson. Henderson lives in a brothel with Phil Connor. She sets up Ona for Connor's sexual pleasure.


    Jurgis's child makes a family man out of Jurgis, and it's for his sake that Jurgis goes to work after Ona dies. His drowning in the flooded street outside the widow's lodging house drives Jurgis away to follow his whims for the summer.


    Two of Elzbieta's sons, Vilimas, age 11, and Nikalojus, age 10, are pulled out of school and sent into the streets to sell newspapers. They become streetwise, adapting too well to their new environment to suit their elders, learning to sneak free rides on trolleys and to identify the city's criminals by name.


    At the age of three, Elzbieta's crippled child Kristoforas dies of convulsions, possibly from eating spoiled sausage. His loss devastates his mother, who begs the money for a proper funeral.


    The owner of saloons and brothels, this city judge does the packers' bidding whenever he's asked. He ignores Jurgis's honest defense of his attack on Connor and sentences Jurgis to jail.


    One of Sinclair's most convincing characters, this midwife is a grotesque- a repugnant clown figure that invites the reader's nervous laughter. Fat, greasy, vain, and greedy, she nonetheless goes to Ona's aid because she can't stand to see people suffer. Sinclair uses her to make a point about medical care for the poor.


    Another of Elzbieta's crippled children, Juozapas pokes his crutch into the garbage dump looking for edible food. A social worker discovers him and sets up a job for Jurgis at a steel plant.


    Son of the wealthy meat packer, Old Man Jones, young Freddie is out on the town when he finds Jurgis begging. Sinclair uses him to show the insensitivity of the rich to the plight of the poor. Freddie can't make the imaginative leap required to understand Jurgis's poverty. He figures they're both in the same boat: "No money, either," Freddie tells Jurgis. His father has left him "with less than two thousand dollars in his pocket," more than an unskilled worker in Packingtown can make in five years.


    One of Scully's men, Halloran introduces Jurgis to some of the intricacies of political corruption. He pays Jurgis $5 to pick up paychecks for imaginary city workers. He's another example of the people who bleed city governments and corrupt the political process.


    A Polish immigrant, this struggling pants-finisher lives with his wife in a dingy flat. He takes Jurgis home and gives him a crash course in Socialist theory.


    Hinds, a veteran of the Civil War and a Socialist, hires Jurgis to be the porter in his hotel- a "hot-bed of... propaganda." There, Jurgis continues his Socialist education. Whatever the complaint, Hinds has the cure: "Vote the Socialist ticket!"

[The Jungle Contents]



Most of the action in The Jungle takes place from November 1900 to November 1904 in Chicago, Illinois, then "the meat capital of the world." In flashbacks (chapters 2 through 6) Sinclair takes the reader back to the spring of 1899 and rural Lithuania, then part of Tsarist Russia. (Today Lithuania is one of the republics that make up the Soviet Union.) This device allows Sinclair to fill in background details about Jurgis, Ona, and their families. More important, it allows him to contrast peasant life in the Old World with the jarring brutality of life for industrial workers in America.

But Chicago is the main setting- and a brilliant choice it was. As the 20th century opened, Chicago produced more factory goods than any other city in the world except New York. Best of all, for Sinclair's purposes, it had the meat-packing industry, a ready-made metaphor for everything that Sinclair believed ugly and life-denying about a capitalist economy.

About 8.8 million immigrants entered the U.S. between 1901 and 1910. Most were lured to the big cities, where- if they were lucky- they got backbreaking jobs as unskilled laborers in factories and mills. To Sinclair, their fate was no different from that of the hogs and cattle brought to Chicago by train from all over the Midwest and West. The immigrants were being led to slaughter, too. Work in the meat- packing industry was notoriously hazardous.


In 1905 Sinclair had two goals in writing The Jungle. He wanted to expose the evils of capitalism- especially the way it exploited wage earners. And he wanted to convince his readers to consider socialism as an alternative to capitalism. Thus, the novel has two major themes:

  1. Greed and ruthless competition have made turn-of-the-century America into a brutal jungle. "Take or be taken" is the guiding rule, and everyone is someone else's prey. "All the fair and noble impulses of humanity, the dreams of poets and the agonies of martyrs, are shackled and bound in the service of organized and predatory Greed."

  2. The solution is to substitute cooperation for competition by reorganizing the economy along Socialist lines- that is, by giving ownership of essential industries to the public and running them democratically for everyone's benefit.

Linked to these major themes are a number of minor themes:

  1. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder- wage-earners and their families- are at a particular disadvantage in the capitalist jungle. They are slaves to the whims of their masters- the capitalists who own and run private industry. Immigrants, ignorant of the language and ways of their new country, are the most vulnerable members of this class.

  2. Industrial capitalism is an efficient, impersonal "slaughtering machine" that sacrifices its workers. Businesses take no responsibility for their workers. They "use up" the strong and young and discard the weak and old.

  3. Democracy under capitalism is a sham, because big business, not the ordinary citizen, controls the government. Business and government work hand-in-hand to corrupt the democratic process. Elective politics is a shell game that the worker usually loses.

  4. Unions are no match for capitalist organizations, whose superior resources make them quicker, stronger, and more flexible. "The whole machinery of society is at their aggressors' command."

  5. Because they are often ignorant of their own best interests, workers unknowingly take steps to defeat them. They back the wrong candidates, manufacture goods that might harm them, and break strikes that could benefit them.

  6. Wage earners must be taught to see themselves for what they are: an oppressed class. Only then can they be expected to act in their own interests and to elect leaders who will support a Socialist revolution.

  7. Marriage is a trap, because the need to support a family makes wage-earners vulnerable to exploitation, on the job and off.

  8. The consumer's welfare, like the workers, is of secondary importance to the capitalist, who puts profits first.

Many readers have remarked on Sinclair's kinship with the Naturalist school of literature founded by the noted French author Emile Zola (1840-1902). Sinclair's characters, for example, are creatures of circumstance- of the accidents of their pasts (through heredity and culture) and their present environments. It is useful in a discussion of the novel's themes to examine the Naturalists' theories. As you read The Jungle, you can decide how close a kin Zola is to Sinclair.

Zola developed Naturalism as a way of justifying the realist approach in literature. Realists describe things as they are, without dressing up what they find important in everyday life.

Zola believed that, in literature, realism was the only honest approach. He also believed that in the hands of a careful realist the novel could be a kind of scientific experiment. So notebook in hand, Zola studied the world of his characters- usually Parisian slum dwellers. He recorded the details of that world in his novels to show how his characters' environments shaped their lives. Moreover, he was careful to trace each of his characters' ancestries in order to show that a person's fate was as much the result of heredity as of environment. Thus, Zola's novels were, in effect, laboratory tests on imaginary people.

Many readers of The Jungle argue that Sinclair adopted Zola's technique and used it to prove his case against capitalism. Other readers feel it is misleading to call Sinclair a Zolaist. For one thing, Zola believed that one's nature- whether good or evil, for instance- was completely determined by heredity. Sinclair didn't share this belief. In The Jungle he puts the blame for the wrongs people commit against one another on the environment. It's the economic system, he says, that forces people to be evil in order to survive.

As might be expected, Sinclair's cure for weaknesses in human nature also differed from Zola's. Zola believed that a combination of medicine and education could overcome the effects of heredity and lead to the perfection of human nature. Sinclair's cure for the ills of industrial America was a new environment- a socialist economy, where cooperation would replace competition.

There are other, differences between the two writers' approaches to their subjects. Zola's characters are trapped in a web of circumstance from which they cannot escape. His books end tragically, without hope. The Jungle, however, ends on a positive note- with a socialist victory in sight, if not in hand. And Jurgis is not trapped. On the contrary, his discovery of socialism and conversion to it liberates him.

Finally, there's nothing dispassionately scientific about Sinclair's approach to his subject. You know whose side he's on as soon as you read the book's dedication: "To the Workingmen of America." The Jungle is not a cool-headed clinical experiment of the sort Zola felt he was conducting. It's an unvarnished piece of propaganda for socialism and against the destructive form of capitalism that was practiced in Sinclair's day.


Sinclair's style is simple and direct. He was not a "literary" writer, interested in using language in new or startling ways to advance the form of the novel. "Few writers seemed to write less for the sake of literature," the critic Alfred Kazin has written of Sinclair's work as a whole. "First things came first; the follies of capitalism, the dangers of drinking, the iniquities of wealthy newspapers and universities came first."

Still, in The Jungle Sinclair uses language effectively, and in a variety of ways, to shape his characters and develop his themes. Direct statement is his strength, but he makes good use of symbols, too. A description of a hog slaughtering turns out to be an allegory about the immigrant's fate in industrial America. (See the discussion of chapter 3.) Belching smokestacks and the smell of rotting garbage suggests an impression of hell on earth. (See chapter 2.)

Sinclair uses strong sensory imagery that many of his more refined readers in 1906 found repugnant. Stockyards and dumps are smelly places- Sinclair makes sure we know just how smelly. He makes us hear the "broom, broom" of a cello and feel the slippery flesh that makes work so dangerous for beef boners. He makes us see what, in ordinary life, we might recoil from: garbage, the slaughtering process, a greasy midwife with blood "splashed upon her clothing and her face."

Sinclair relies heavily on figures of speech (metaphors and similes) to remind us that he's serious about comparing life in turn-of-the-century America with life in a jungle. Enraged, Jurgis breathes deeply "like a wounded bull" (simile). His foe, Connor, is "the great beast" (metaphor).

Like the symbolism, such figures of speech help give many passages in the book a poetic quality, forcing you to dig beneath the surface of the words for meaning.

But you never have to dig too deeply. There's nothing deceptive about Sinclair. He wants you to understand him easily and well.


Who's telling the story? Whose point of view does the narrator reflect?

The answer depends on which narrator you're talking about, for there are at least two narrators in The Jungle. One, the omniscient author, is rather god-like and all-knowing, setting scenes, summarizing events, and moving in and out of different characters' minds. The other is more of a commentator- an editorial writer who lashes out at one iniquity or another, telling us what to look at and how to think about what we see. This second narrator often knows more than his characters do, and he's not shy about sharing his insights with us.

The narrator's double identity can be confusing. At one point, the omniscient narrator describes some police officers and some strike-breaking goons, including Jurgis, taking off after strikers. In the fracas, Jurgis and a couple of cops break up and rob a saloon. The second narrator tells us what Jurgis cannot possibly know- that a few thousand biased newspapers will report the episode as a riot, a reason to condemn the strikers. Sinclair obviously thought he needed the switch in narrators to make his statement.

He makes similar switches elsewhere, especially in muckraking passages. Sinclair is an incurable explainer. When he thinks that the conventional narrator can't get his point across, he steps in himself. But not once do we view a scene through the eyes of one of his characters.


The Jungle consists of 31 chapters, all designed to move the reader- and its hero- along the path to socialism. On the way, our guide (Sinclair) makes us pause and examine the surrounding landscape- the jungle of predators, the prey and the traps for the weak or unwary. It's here- in the form of short or long passages- that the muckraking takes place, exposing the absurdities of the economic system or the perfidies of the packers and crooked public officials. As might be expected, the pacing of the plot is somewhat jerky. Sinclair rushes to tell his story, then stops in his tracks- for a paragraph or a whole section of a chapter- to explore a subject that outrages him.

Overall, the novel follows a conversion pattern- one in which its hero passes through stages of pride, doubt, and despair, to his awakening and salvation. Jurgis is, for the most part, in the grip of forces beyond his control, though eventually he finds his footing and takes control of his life.



ECC [The Jungle Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

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