Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
The word propaganda has a negative ring to it today. We usually use it to mean a systematic effort- in the press or through art, for example- to spread ideas that are probably false. Furthermore, we tend to think that propaganda has no place in novels or paintings.
Sinclair rejected the word's negative connotation and the bias against propaganda in art. To him, propaganda was simply an attempt to convince others of one's point of view. And far from diluting art, propaganda strengthened it, Sinclair felt.
In the chapter-by-chapter analysis that follows, we will look at The Jungle primarily as Sinclair did- as a propaganda novel and a call to arms. We will examine the techniques he used to sell his particular vision of industrial capitalism and his prescription for a cure.
Some of the techniques he uses are found more often in nonfiction than in fiction. Sinclair leans heavily upon the documentary approach of the historian, for example. At times, he approaches his subject as if he were a muckraker composing an expose for a magazine. At other times- particularly in the final chapters- he makes a direct, reasoned appeal to the reader, much like a pamphlet writer.
Clearly, Sinclair wears several hats in The Jungle, He is a dramatizer, a historian, a muckraker, and a pamphleteer. (Some readers argue that he wears a fifth hat- that of a Naturalist disciple of the French novelist, Emile Zola. See the Themes section of this guide.) For a full appreciation of The Jungle, it will be helpful if you learn to sort out the different roles the author plays.
Sinclair uses the opening chapter to introduce you to his major characters and their Old World values, and to foreshadow the tragic events to come. This chapter demonstrates how gifted he is as a dramatizer.
The book opens in medias res- Latin for in the middle of things. It's four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon in November 1900. The wedding of Ona Lukoszaite and Jurgis Rudkus is over, and the wedding feast is about to begin. The guests are arriving at a saloon, whose back room has been rented for the occasion.
Without doubt, this is an event- not just for the wedding party, but for the children who live back of the yards in Chicago's stockyard district, which Sinclair calls Packingtown. Marija Berczynskas, Ona's cousin and the impatient organizer of the day, has been accusing her carriage driver of dawdling "all the way down Ashland Avenue." Her exuberance has attracted a crowd of adults and children, some of whom will be invited to join the veselija, as the wedding feast is called.
NOTE: USE OF CONTRASTS
The party- like any party- opens with great expectations among the guests. And, for the most part, their expectations are fulfilled. It is a joyful occasion, especially in its opening hours. But there's an unmistakable undercurrent of sadness here, of pain. Before the party ends, that sadness will become the dominant mood. By then, most everyone will be drunk or asleep or both, but Teta Elzbieta, Ona's stepmother, and Marija, usually unconquerable, will be "sobbing loudly."
Why? What has caused this Old World custom of the veselija- one to which the poor Lithuanians in Packingtown "cling with all the power of their souls"- to turn sour? Sinclair drops a lot of clues throughout this earthy, bittersweet chapter. In so doing, he hints at many of the tragedies that lie ahead. The chapter's mood swings- from optimism to despair and back to a guarded optimism- foreshadow the novel's pattern and the emotional rollercoaster ride that Jurgis is about to embark on.
As we learn, the guests are happiest when they can forget not only their cares, but where they are and what they are- peasants transplanted to an alien, unforgiving environment. And, for a while, they are able to do this. In a tiny room, they try to recreate, just for a day, the traditions of the Old World. Led by Marija, the women bustle about, cooking and serving food. The musicians, led by Tamoszius Kuszeleika, play badly, but no one cares. "This music is their music, music of home. It stretches out its arms to them.... Chicago and its saloons and its slums fade away.... They behold home landscapes and childhood scenes returning; old loves and friendships begin to waken."
NOTE: SINCLAIR'S USE OF MUSIC
Thus Sinclair reminds us that the party has two moods- one gay and one sad. As the party reaches its lowest point, the band switches from Lithuanian music to a "merciless" American pop tune.
Reality intrudes when Dede Antanas, Jurgis's father, rises to speak. His work in the damp, cold "pickle rooms at Durham's"- a meat-packing concern- has brought back an old respiratory disease, and he can barely talk without coughing. He is convinced he is dying. His speech is more a farewell than a congratulatory message, and he leaves his listeners weeping.
The delicatessen owner, Jokubas Szedvilas, tries to cheer up the guests with a little speech. His off- color allusions to marriage's sexual pleasures delight the young men but cause Ona, who is delicate and "not quite 16," to blush.
When the dancing begins, Sinclair hints at other problems that are gnawing at these people. Among them is a generation gap between parents and children. The young prefer the two-step, an American dance; the older people prefer the complicated dances they learned in Lithuania. The young affect the latest style of clothing; they wouldn't be caught dead in the clothes their elders wear- embroidered vests or bodices brought from Europe.
As Sinclair introduces us to more and more people, we see that no one is completely free. Lucija and Jokubas Szedvilas have had to mortgage their delicatessen to pay their rent. Aniele Jukniene, widowed, sick, and mother of three children, takes in washing and raises chickens on garbage. These are defeated people, Sinclair suggests; yet with heroic energy, they pour themselves into the traditional wedding feast as a way of denying their fate. "Bit by bit these poor people have given up everything else; but... they cannot give up the veselija! To do that would mean, not merely to be defeated, but to acknowledge defeat- and the difference between these two things is what keeps the world going."
A calamity befalls the newlyweds when the contributions of the guests don't add up to the expenses of the veselija. In Lithuania, everyone contributes what he can after dancing with the bride in a ceremony called the acziavimas. But in America the tradition breaks down. In "the new country, all this was changing; it seemed as if there must be some subtle poison in the air that one breathed here- it was affecting all the young men at once."
NOTE: USE OF FOREIGN PHRASES
Some young men fill themselves with food and drink and sneak off. Others march out defiantly. They have adopted the competitive code of jungle animals- take or be taken from, kill or be killed- that shapes the lives of every character in the novel. Jurgis considers fighting with the freeloaders but holds himself back. An optimist, Jurgis is proud of his strength (he can carry a 250-pound quarter of beef "without a stagger") and his ability to earn money. "We will pay... somehow," he tells Ona. "I will work harder."
Ona has heard this vow before, in Lithuania and New York, where officials had cheated them. Hearing it again gives her heart. She thinks how wonderful it is "to have a husband... who could solve all problems, and who was so big and strong!"
If she had spoken her thought aloud, chances are that Jurgis- naive male chauvinist that he is- would have agreed with her. But you've read the chapter closely enough to know better. This is a new world, one they don't understand. "A rule made in the forests of Lithuania is hard to apply in the stockyards district of Chicago, with its quarter of a million inhabitants," Sinclair tells us.
Moreover, there are big bills to pay- some of them padded, like the one they expect to get from Graiczunas, the saloon-keeper. "The saloon-keeper stood in with all the big politics men in the district."
Sinclair has plunged a knife into this veselija, and as the chapter ends, he gives the knife a little twist. It is three o'clock in the morning. Everyone except Ona is "literally burning alcohol." Yet the dancers still move across the floor, unable to stop, to let go of the moment, the release that the day has given them. The music has changed, from Old World tunes to a popular American song. Soon- in four hours- all will be dancing to another "American tune"- the packers'- at work.
If they fail to show up, they will lose their jobs to members of "the hungry mob that waits every morning at the gates of the packing houses." Even Ona has been unable to persuade her boss at Brown's, one of the largest packing houses, to give her a day off.
Jurgis feels confident enough to flout her boss. He carries Ona- "small for her age, a mere child"- the two blocks from the saloon to their home. "You will not go to Brown's today," he tells her.
Ona has spent the night in alternating states of excitement and terror. She gasps, but Jurgis insists. "Leave it to me," he says. "I will earn more money- I will work harder."
Is this just macho bluster on Jurgis's part? Or does he really believe that hard work will be enough to ensure their survival in this harsh new world? As the story unfolds, Sinclair will spell out his own view, too. Chapter 1 has already given you a pretty good idea of what that view is.
NOTE: STYLISTIC TECHNIQUES
Here Sinclair begins five chapters of flashbacks. Their purpose is to fill you in on the events that led up to the wedding, to contrast the Old World with the New, and to help you understand what motivates some of the characters, especially Jurgis.
NOTE: PLOT vs. STORY
Why not? A good storyteller is a tease. He sets up a problem- in this case, "Will hard work help Jurgis and Ona beat the odds?"- then in bits and pieces gives you the clues you need to solve the problem. Ideally, each clue should whet your appetite for another. A nonchronological plot helps add to the suspense.
The chapter opens with three transitional paragraphs which ease us into Jurgis's past life. We learn the answer to our question about Jurgis's sincerity immediately. He really does believe that his ability to work- and work hard- sets him apart from other men. And four months in America has only increased this young giant's belief in his own invincibility. When he hears about men who have been broken by their jobs, he just laughs. "He could not even imagine how it would feel to be beaten." So far, his strength and agility have been in such demand- he was hired at Brown's after only a half hour's wait- he can't believe anyone would "let" him starve.
The comments of the men who hear him boast are a key to his character- and to the structure of the novel from here on out. They realize that he's simply naive and inexperienced- that he has come "from very far in the country."
NOTE: THE NAIF
Jurgis's listeners in Chicago had hit the nail right on the head. Jurgis had been brought up in a clearing in the middle of the Imperial Forest in Lithuania. More than a country bumpkin, he was literally, a babe in the woods. A year and a half before the wedding, he had ventured out of the forest to sell a couple of his father's horses. There he had met Ona, then 14 years old- about 11 years his junior. Jurgis is so naive that he asks her father, "a rich man," to sell her to him for two horses. Ona's father turns Jurgis down.
When Jurgis returns a few months later, Ona's father has died, and his farm has been sold to satisfy creditors. Ona is drawn to Jurgis but won't marry him because of her love for her stepmother, Elzbieta. Elzbieta's brother Jonas, "a dried-up little man," suggests that they go to America, where a friend of his had become highly successful.
The idea appeals to Jurgis. "He would go to America and marry, and be a rich man in the bargain." And if he failed to become rich? No matter. "In that country, rich or poor, a man was free, it was said; he did not have to go into the army, he did not have to pay out his money to rascally officials- he might do as he pleased, and count himself as good as any other man."
By putting these thoughts in the mind of a naif, Sinclair is telling us how to judge them. They are false hopes destined to be shattered. "If one could only manage to get the price of a passage," Jurgis thinks, "he could count his troubles at an end." Sinclair seems to be setting Jurgis up for disappointment.
Note how Jurgis gets the money for his passage. He spends a winter building a railroad in Smolensk- "a fearful experience, with filth and bad food and cruelty and overwork." "When they paid him off he dodged the company gamblers and dramshops [bars], and so they tried to kill him; but he escaped."
This episode is worth thinking about for two reasons. It's the first glimpse we get of "jungle" life under capitalism. (Russia would remain firmly capitalistic for another 17 years.) Even on his way home, Jurgis has to sleep "always with one eye open," on the lookout for predators. Second, the passage suggests that Sinclair's argument is not with America but with an economic system- one that can be found anywhere.
Chicago, where "Jonas's friend had gotten rich," nearly overwhelms the newcomers. There are 12 of them: Jurgis, Dede Antanas, Jonas, Ona, Marija (Ona's cousin, who is twenty years old), and Elzbieta and her six children. They spend their first night in a police station. The next morning they are taught a new word, "stockyards," and put aboard a trolley headed there.
The trolley ride further foreshadows the fate that awaits them. The buildings in the promised land are "ugly and dirty." Smoke pollutes the air and earth and darkens the sky. As they approach Packingtown, fields become "parched and yellow, the landscape hideous and bare." Everywhere, there's a "strange, pungent odor." They can't place it. "It was an elemental odor, raw and crude"- very like the smell of the jungle.
When they arrive at the stockyards, they notice chimneys belching smoke that "might have come from the center of the world." They are disturbed by an "elemental" sound- the lowing and grunting of thousands of cattle and pigs in the distance.
By chance, they pass the delicatessen owned by Jokubas Szedvilas, "the mythical friend who had made his fortune in America." Jokubas becomes their mentor and guide and sends them to the home of the widow Aniele Jukniene. Her filthy four-room flat is full of lodgers, anywhere from six to fourteen people in a room. It's the worst accommodation Jurgis and his extended family have seen in all their travels, but they make do.
Jurgis has already been disabused of one preconception. The high prices have made him realize he will not get rich, a letdown not made any easier by the fact that they're spending the money they brought with them faster than expected.
But again Jurgis is irrepressible. "Tomorrow," he says matter-of-factly, "I will get a job, and perhaps Jonas will get one also; and then we can get a place of our own."
Jurgis and Ona go for a walk, giving Sinclair a chance to do some muckraking. The houses have been built on land "made" out of a city dump. The stench is overpowering, suggesting "all the dead things of the universe." Along the neglected roadways, children play in potholes "full of stinking green water." In a dump site that's still being filled, other children rake through garbage.
Ona and Jurgis aren't dismayed. Characteristically, they are impressed at the efficient way the land is used; to build bricks, a brick company had excavated the land now used for the dump. Nearby is another hole full of polluted, "festering" water that in wintertime will be sold as ice.
What is this awful place they're in? The belching chimneys and the smell of death suggest it may be hell. To emphasize the metaphor, Sinclair evokes some satanic imagery. At sunset, "the sky in the West turned blood red, and the tops of the houses shone like fire."
But do Jurgis and Ona make the connection? Of course not. They're looking away from the sunset, toward Packingtown! And the sunset light is playing tricks on them. The smoke which had this afternoon been so frightening is now multicolored. In the twilight the great packinghouses offer "a vision of power... a dream of wonder, with its tale of human energy... of opportunity and freedom, of life and love and joy."
Misreading all the clues as usual, Jurgis feels a surge of confidence. "Tomorrow," he says, "I shall go there and get a job!"
NOTE: SHIFTING POINT OF VIEW
This shifting point of view may bother readers who prefer narrators to stay close to their characters and make discoveries with them. Remember, though, that Sinclair has chosen to play several roles: dramatizer, muckraker, historian, and pamphleteer. He often changes roles abruptly, sounding like a novelist in one line and an outraged magazine writer in the next. If these changes disturb you, they are probably too abrupt, a flaw in Sinclair's technique.
The flashback continues the next day as Jokubas takes the newcomers on a tour of Packingtown- the stockyards and packinghouses. The tour gives Sinclair a chance to introduce some metaphors that make turn-of-the-century Chicago such an ideal setting for The Jungle.
In the morning, one of the bosses at Brown's picks Jurgis out of the crowd of jobseekers and tells him to start the next day. So the outing afterwards is a celebration, making Jurgis even more resistant than usual to negative interpretations of what he sees and hears.
Jokubas is an ebullient guide. Sinclair is wearing his historian's hat through much of this chapter and lets Jokubas spout the data he (Sinclair) had gathered on the stockyard operations. We learn that the plants "process" about 30,000 animals a day, that in the cattle pens there are 25,000 gates, and in the stockyards, 250 miles of railroad track. These are the sort of facts public relations people drum up to impress outsiders, and they make their mark. When Jokubas rattles them off, "his guests cry out with wonder," and Jurgis swells with pride. "Had he not... become a sharer in all this activity, a cog in this marvelous machine?"
The pace, efficiency, and size of the packing-house operations leave him awestruck.
NOTE: ALLEGORY OF THE HOGS
Read this passage closely. Note the many comparisons between hogs and humans. Some readers think Sinclair goes overboard with the analogy when he talks of "the hog-squeal of the universe" and a "god of hogs, to whom this hog-personality was precious." But in this allegory is an echo of The Jungle's major theme: Industrial capitalism- an efficient, impersonal "slaughtering machine"- sacrifices its workers in a horrible way.
The group visits the place where cattle are slaughtered- and watches men on the "killing bed" work "with furious intensity, literally on the run." The half-inch pool of blood they work in "must have made the floor slippery, but no one could have guessed this by watching the men at work."
What you see, Sinclair hints, is not what you get- whether you are a worker or a consumer. "The visitors did not see any more than the packers wanted them to," Jokubas whispers. He translates signs demanding cleanliness, while offering to take his guests "to the secret rooms where the spoiled meats went to be doctored." He points out a government inspector assigned to inspect hog carcasses for tuberculosis. A "sociable person," Jokubas explains, might divert the inspector's attention while "a dozen carcasses were passing untouched."
To Jurgis, it is almost sacrilegious to speak with skepticism of the Beef Trust (the several companies that made up Chicago's packing industry)- "a thing as tremendous as the universe." The big plants "were really all one," Jokubas confides. (Readers in 1906 would have interpreted that phrase as an accusation that the owners of the big packinghouses conspired to fix prices, keep wages low, and smother competition.
Jurgis becomes a convert to the view that the laws and ways of Packingtown (or, more broadly, Big Business) are not to be questioned or understood any more readily than the universe, "that this whole huge establishment had taken him under its protection, and had become responsible for his welfare."
The chapter ends with a wicked allusion to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, which supposedly outlawed concentrations of economic power such as the Beef Trust. Sinclair refers to it as the "law of the land" that requires the meat packers "to be deadly rivals" and encourages them "to ruin each other under penalty of fine and imprisonment!" It's a law, Sinclair suggests, that sanctions the predatory order of the jungle by insisting on competitive practices. As you will see later on, Sinclair wants to substitute cooperation for competition in economic life.
NOTE: ADVERTISING SIGNS
This chapter gives Sinclair a chance to show how easily newly arrived immigrants can be taken in by people determined to defraud them. And it gives you a chance to study how a writer can communicate panic and tension by stepping up the pace of his narrative.
Sinclair begins by describing Jurgis's first day on the killing beds, sweeping entrails into a trap in the floor. He is delighted with the money he earns- 17 1/2 cents an hour, more than $1.50 for the 12-hour day. Back at Aniele's lodging house, there's a celebration, because Jonas and Marija have been offered jobs. Marija will be doing skilled piecework, painting cans. Jonas will push a hand truck at Durham's.
Jurgis has decided that the older children will go to school and that Elzbieta and Ona will stay home to keep house. Dede Antanas- too old for a job in America, Jurgis is told- has spent two days seeking work, with no luck. The packers discard men once they grow old, Jokubas explains. His comment underlines the novel's theme that capitalist industries wear out their workers, then turn away from them.
An advertisement for a house catches Jurgis's eye and persuades the family to consider buying their own home. They're easy marks for the smooth-talking real estate agent. Just how easy, Sinclair makes clear in a detailed account of the negotiations that lead up to the purchase. Jurgis, who is illiterate, can't calculate how much they'll need to make the monthly payments. Luckily, "Ona was like lightning at such things." The dingy one-story house, which the agent is trying to pawn off as new, is full of defects, but the peasant family "tried to shut their eyes" to them.
Jokubas warns them not to buy. He's seen too many people "done to death in this 'buying a home' swindle." But the family is desperate- they must move somewhere. Besides, Jurgis tells himself, "others might have failed at it, but he was not the failing kind- he would show them how to do it. He would work all day, and all night, too, if need be."
Since Jurgis can't get a day off, he sends Ona and Elzbieta with Jokubas to sign the deed and make the down payment. But Jokubas, worldly as he is compared to the others, can't make any sense of the contract. It seems to provide only for the renting of the property- $12 a month for eight years.
From here to the end of the chapter, watch Sinclair speed up his story to make you feel the panic of the bewildered peasants. A lawyer who is on a first-name basis with the agent assures them that "it was all perfectly regular." Elzbieta makes the $300 down payment, and the women go home "with a deadly terror gnawing at their souls." Jurgis hears their tale and rushes out to find another lawyer, who reads the deed and explains that all is in order. So long as they make all the payments, the house will be theirs. Jurgis is so relieved, that he can't see that the hurdle of regular payments may be impossibly high. Back at Aniele's, everything is in an uproar; the women thought he had left to murder the agent. Overwhelmed by tension, Ona and Elzbieta sob themselves to sleep.
NOTE: THE SUMMARY NARRATIVE APPROACH
Other readers feel that Sinclair relies too heavily on the techniques of summary narrative. In so doing, they say, he keeps the action and the characters at a distance, making it hard for us to identify with them.
Sinclair begins this chapter by poking fun at the type of advertisements that so annoyed him in Chapter 3. He ends with Jurgis "having begun to see at last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America."
On the "advice" of an advertisement, the family falls into another trap of the capitalist jungle- buying household furnishings on the installment plan. Too absorbed with the "never-ending delight" of fixing up their house, they don't notice how the debt increases their vulnerability to economic catastrophe.
On the job, Jurgis is still a naif. The bosses keep the men working at a frantic pace by "speeding up the gang," but he doesn't mind. He likes being kept busy and can't understand why the union should try to slow the pace to protect the men who can't keep up. Without knowing it, Jurgis shares the classic capitalist belief in laissez faire- the freedom to succeed or fail in economic life without interference.
And yet, his father's failure so far to find a job troubles him. Why, Jurgis wonders, are the old people shunned in industrial America?
This "crack in the fine structure of Jurgis's faith in things as they are" widens when he hears about a job offer for Antanas. Someone at Durham's has promised him a job for a price: one-third of his pay. Tamoszius Kuszleika, the amateur violinist who led the musicians at the wedding feast, explains to Jurgis that "such cases of petty graft" are common.
NOTE: TAMOSZIUS'S VIEW OF INDUSTRY
What a horrible job Antanas gets. Sinclair puts on his muckraker's hat and tells how Antanas earns his money cleaning the pickle (chemical) room. The chemicals for curing canned beef are reused no matter how contaminated they get, and the meat sludge that gets caught in the drains is retrieved for canning. Antanas is unwillingly part of a conspiracy to cheat and possibly endanger the health of consumers. And so is Jurgis in his job, when he helps process unborn calves and cattle that have died on the way to the slaughterhouse.
This discovery is a major blow to Jurgis's "faith in America." So is the news that Marija owes her job to the boss's decision to fire a mother who took sick and that Jonas replaced a worker injured on the job. Like vultures, they are profiting from others' misfortunes. Sinclair has begun to knock the blinders from Jurgis's eyes.
Sinclair continues the education of Jurgis by revealing how real estate agents take advantage of the poor and by beginning an expose of child labor. All this may not sound like the stuff of fiction to you. But notice how carefully Sinclair integrates the facts and figures of his research into the story.
"Jurgis judged everything by the criterion of its helping or hindering their union." He's losing his naivete; yet for Ona's sake he's willing to stand any hardship and overlook "the tricks and cruelties he saw at Durham's."
He and Ona want to forego tradition and get married at once, but Elzbieta won't hear of it. So they postpone the event until they can raise money for the wedding feast.
A visit from Grandmother Majauszkiene, a wise old neighbor, brings them the bad news that they've been swindled. The house is not new; at least four families have lived there before and were evicted when they missed payments. Moreover, the true monthly payments are $17, not $12. No one had told them about the interest! "You are like the rest," the old lady says, "they trick you and eat you alive"- like animals in a real jungle.
Jurgis swears to "work harder," but for the first time he begins to realize that the forces arrayed against him are more powerful than he. Ona gets a job sewing covers on hams after bribing the forelady. Elzbieta finds a priest to certify that Stanislovas, her oldest son, is 16- two years beyond his true age. Armed with his certificate, Stanislovas gets a job at Durham's filling cans with lard.
Stanislovas isn't the only child in America who must go to work instead of school. He's one of almost two million children working for about 50 cents a day, six days a week.
At the chapter's end, Sinclair returns to the young lovers. Ona and Jurgis "have calculated that the added income leaves "them just about as they had been before!"
NOTE: CHARACTERIZATION OF GRANDMOTHER MAJAUSZKIENE
Like Shakespeare's witches, she can foretell the future. Note, especially, her remark that their house is unlucky, that someone is bound to get consumption. This prophecy will come true in the next chapter.
After a transitional paragraph, the flashback ends, and the story picks up after the wedding feast in Chapter 1. More than $100 in debt, Ona and Jurgis must begin their married life with the "lash of want" cracking over their heads.
Jurgis resolves to protect Ona "against the horror he saw about them." And yet he fails when Ona, too poor to own a raincoat, gets sick after a drenching downpour. (In a mini-expose, Sinclair lays part of the blame on the greed of the men who own the trolley lines.)
The rest of the chapter is a laundry list of the dangers strewn in the family's path: advertisements and companies that lie, the cesspool beneath the house, "doctored" foods, low-quality winter clothes, bedbugs and roaches.
Antanas can't stop coughing. He's the consumptive that Grandmother Majauszkiene warned about. He dies, and Jurgis, wiser now, negotiates a bargain funeral.
The "dreadful winter" joins the list of dangers. Workers sicken and are replaced by "starving, penniless men" lined up for work outside the packing plants. Sinclair compares the ailing workers to the weaker branches" that are knocked off forest trees by winter storms. The message is clear: Only the fittest will survive the winter in Packingtown.
NOTE: THE METAPHOR OF NATURAL SELECTION
The French writer, Emile Zola, was fascinated by Darwin's theories and structured his novels to "prove" some of those ideas. Readers who feel that The Jungle is a Naturalist novel structured like Zola's cite this chapter to prove their case.
Other readers say that Sinclair used Darwinism and Zolaist techniques only when they served his purposes- as they do, clearly, in this chapter. Darwinism is an apt metaphor for the process of selection that takes place in Packingtown during the winter months. And it allows Sinclair to foreshadow the fate of Ona, who "was not fitted for a life as this."
Conditions at the plants are pitiful. Men on the killing floor are hobbled by the blood that turns to ice on their feet. Those in the cooking rooms- the only place in the plant that's warm- run the risk of catching cold when they "pass through ice-cold corridors."
Another winter danger is the saloons on "Whiskey Row." They lure customers by providing essential services for the poor workers: warmth, check-cashing, a place to eat near the plants.
In the poetic passage that ends the chapter, Sinclair personifies the cold, "a living thing, a demon presence." If you've ever been really cold, you'll understand how the cold can be "yelling out" or be still as death "as it crept in through the cracks, reaching out for them with its icy, death-dealing fingers."
This chapter is a turning point for Jurgis. His family's fortunes sink when a slump in the meat- packing business occurs. Disillusioned, he joins the union, "for he understood that a fight was on, and that it was his fight."
Before introducing this crisis, Sinclair trots out the elfin musician, Tamoszius, for a bit of comic relief. He falls in love with Marija when he discovers that, despite her booming voice and violent energy, she has "the heart of a baby." He proposes marriage; she accepts; and they plan a spring wedding.
But their love is doomed. With the holiday season over, consumer demand is low, so Marija's canning factory shuts down until business improves.
The slowdown affects the entire industry. Jurgis has to report to work each day at seven but is paid only when cattle are processed- for weeks on end, no more than two hours a day. He is never paid "broken time"- fractional parts of hours.
The injustice makes a union man of him. This is his second conversion. (The first, in Chapter 3, was to Big Business.) Soon all the working members of his family wear union buttons. Yet they can't understand why the union can't prevent Marija's factory from closing. Unions don't fare well in this novel- the packers are quicker, stronger, more flexible.
Toward the end of the chapter, Sinclair puts another clown on stage- Tommy Finnegan. Finnegan corners Jurgis at a union meeting and rattles on in an Irish brogue about the world of the spirits. The entire confrontation takes no more than a paragraph but is worth noting, because it shows Sinclair's talent for creating memorable characters in only a few words.
This complicated chapter begins with Jurgis in night school and ends with a worker being rendered into lard. It gives you an opportunity to study the narrator as he switches in and out of several guises: storyteller, historian, muckraker. Throughout, Sinclair resorts to summary narrative, the most efficient way to cover so much territory.
Jurgis's union activities have inspired him to learn to speak and read English. At the same time, he begins groping with political concepts. The union begins to show him what a democracy can be.
In a brief flashback, Sinclair indicates how true democracy has been corrupted in America. A night watchman at Durham's helps him become naturalized so that he can vote. On election day, the watchman then pays him $2 to vote Democratic.
All this is done with the complicity of business interests and the police. That complicity reinforces Sinclair's theme that business and government work hand-in-hand to corrupt the democratic process. Durham's gives Jurgis a half-day off, with pay, to become naturalized, and two hours off to vote. At the polling place, a cop makes sure Jurgis marks his ballot the way he was told.
Friends in the union help him make sense of these transactions, with a distorted picture of the way our democratic system works. "The officials who ruled [the government], and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes."
Sinclair, the muckraker, gives a scathing portrait of Mike Scully, boss of Chicago's Democratic machine. Scully boasts he is "the people's man," but he's only interested in money and power. He has plenty of both, largely due to his position as patronage chief and intermediary between the city government and the packers.
Sinclair lists some of the packers' crimes: stealing city water, selling condemned meat in Illinois, adulterating foods, mislabeling canned goods. He describes the occupational diseases and injuries that threaten packing-house workers: amputated thumbs, tuberculosis in the cooking rooms, men unable to stand straight, fingers eaten off by acid, rheumatism, and more. The list ends with Sinclair's most sensational revelation: men tumbling into cooking vats and being rendered into lard.
Theodore Roosevelt's investigators, checking up on Sinclair's allegations, could find no proof of the man-into-lard story. But it doesn't matter. It was the metaphor Sinclair was after. Figuratively, if not literally, the workers' lives were being destroyed and eaten by the world.
NOTE: USE OF LITERARY ALLUSIONS
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) depicted Hell in graphic detail in his classic poem The Divine Comedy. Emile Zola was famous for his unflinchingly realistic descriptions of the seamy side of everyday life.
Some readers have raised objections to these allusions on the grounds that they are out of character. For example, the illiterate Jurgis would never have drawn a connection between Dante, Zola, and the butcher. Once more, Sinclair has simply stepped into the story to interpret events for us as Sinclair, not as one of his characters.
Sinclair moves ahead with his story, focusing on the family's domestic life. Marija's factory is still closed. Jurgis is earning only about half his regular wages. Worry and fear stalk the family; they're not sure why. "They were willing to work all the time; and when people do their best, ought they not be able to keep alive?"
Trapped in a consumer economy, "There never seemed to be an end to the things they had to buy." Insurance on the house, taxes, water fees- Jurgis pried this bad news out of the agent.
Spring comes, then summer. Sinclair addresses you directly, forcing you to compare your summer pleasures with the grueling routines of "men and women and children who... never saw any green thing, not even a flower."
Workers can never forget that they are on the bottom. "People who worked with their hands were a class apart, and were made to feel it." When Sinclair makes a statement like that, you can be sure he'll find a plot twist to prove it. Sure enough, Marija's canning factory opens, but she "forgets her place" and loses her job. Her crime was to challenge the supervisor for not crediting her with work she had done. In time, she gets a job trimming beef at half her earlier wage. But she has been hurt and made to recognize her own vulnerability.
Marija's fate is an unfortunate object lesson for Ona. Ona is having problems with her forelady, Miss Henderson, who, as a sideline, recruits Ona's co-workers for a brothel. Prostitution and sexual harassment are rampant in Packingtown. Sinclair compares the harassment with the situation that existed "under the system of chattel slavery." Yet in Packingtown, there is "no difference in color between master and slave."
It's an ominous clue, this comparison between wage slaves and chattel slaves. Ona is not a strong person. How will she resist her "brutal and inscrupulous" masters if they demand sexual favors? Especially now, when Marija's experience has taught Ona not to "forget her place"?
Ona has a baby which they name after Jurgis's father. Little Antanas makes Jurgis "irrevocably a family man." And yet the baby brings pain, too- an awareness of how little freedom workers have to enjoy their children.
As for Ona, the family's needs require her to return to work after only a week at home. The lack of rest leads to "womb trouble," and Sinclair is careful to show that Ona's is not an isolated case. "The great majority of women... in Packingtown suffered in the same way, and from the same cause."
Sinclair is impatient to make his case against capitalism. He rushes on, relentlessly summarizing the action, pausing for a welcome line of dialogue at the end of the chapter.
The packers expect a strike and are eager to create a pool of trained workers to replace the strikers. So they take on more hands than they need, denying Jurgis overtime and thus reducing his pay. Meanwhile, the speed-ups continue.
Winter comes, and Jurgis fights a blizzard to get to work. In his triumph, Jurgis is like "some monarch of the forest that has vanquished his foe." But he has an accident at work and the company refuses to accept responsibility. Confined to bed, he can no longer contribute to his family's welfare. Ona draws money out of their tiny savings account, and they make do.
Only little Antanas can distract Jurgis. Jurgis says, in a line of dialogue that brings him alive for us, "Look, Muma, he knows his papa! He does, he does! Tu mano szirdele, the little rascal!"
Like Marija, Jurgis is forced to confront his own limits. He returns to work and hobbles through the day. When the pain won't let him finish, he weeps "like a child." A doctor orders him to bed for two months. Finally, in April he shows up for work only to discover that his job has been given to another man.
There is no work for him anywhere, and he realizes why. "They had got the best out of him- they had worn him out, with their speeding up and their carelessness, and now they had thrown him away!"
It's a common plight. Jurgis meets other unemployed men and finds "that they had all had the same experience.... The vast majority... were simply the worn-out parts of the great merciless packing machine."
Elzbieta's brother, Jonas, disappears- probably "gone on the road, seeking happiness." Vilimas, age 11, and Nikalojus, age 10, are pulled out of school and sent to sell newspapers. They become streetwise and ride trolleys without paying. They too are sinking into the ways of the jungle- learning to take before being taken.
The family slides deeper and deeper into the "social pit." Kristoforas, one of Elzbieta's two crippled children, dies suddenly- probably poisoned by a sausage he ate. Elzbieta begs money from neighbors for a proper funeral.
Desperate, Jurgis takes a job at the fertilizer plant, a place so horrible men talk about it "in whispers." The plant's foul odor clings to Jurgis and makes him an outcast.
Vilimas and Nikalojus have adapted too well to their environment to suit Jurgis. They learn to swear, smoke, and gamble; and often they sleep downtown in doorways to save transit time. So it is decided that Kotrina, who is 13, will take care of the house, Elzbieta will get a job, and the boys will return to school.
Sinclair gives a detailed description of Elzbieta's job as "a servant to a 'sausage machine.'" She sits in a damp cellar amid "a sickening odor of moist flesh," twisting sausages into links. She is so busy, she has no time to look up at the gallery, from which visitors "stare at her, as at some wild beast in a menagerie."
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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.