The Jungle By Upton Sinclair

There are many characters in The Jungle. These characters vary
widely in their professions, social status, and economic status. The
main character in the novel is a Lithuanian named Jurgis Rudkus. His
wife is Ona Lukoszaite, also a Lithuanian. Their son is named
Antanas. Mike Scully is a powerful political leader in Packingtown.
Phil Connor is a foreman in Packingtown, “politically connected”
(through Scully), and a man who causes much trouble for Jurgis. Jack
Duane is an experienced and educated criminal who is also
“politically connected”. A man called Ostrinski is a half-blind
tailor who teaches Jurgis about Socialism. There are also the
members of Ona’s family, each of whom play minor roles in the story.
The story opens with the feast at Jurgis and Ona’s wedding in
America, but soon flashes back to the time before they left
Lithuania. Jurgis met Ona at a horse fair, and fell in love with
her. Unfortunately, they were too poor to have a wedding, since
Ona’s father just died. In the hopes of finding freedom and fortune,
they left for America, bringing many members of Ona’s family with
them.
After arriving in America, they are taken to Packingtown to find
work. Packingtown is a section of Chicago where the meat packing
industry is centralized. They take a tour of the plant, and see the
unbelievable efficiency and speed at which hogs and cattle are
butchered, cooked, packed, and shipped. In Packingtown, no part of
the animal is wasted. The tour guide specifically says “They use
everything about the hog except the squeal,” (The Jungle, page 38).
Jurgis’s brawny build quickly gets him a job on the cattle killing
beds. The other members of the family soon find jobs, except for the
children. They are put into school. At first, Jurgis is happy with
his job and America, but he soon learns that America is plagued by
corruption, dishonesty, and bribery. He is forced to work at high
speeds for long hours with low pay, and so is the rest of the family.
He is cheated out of his money several times. The children must
leave school and go to work to help the family survive. This means
they will never receive the education they need to rise above this.
Ona is not permitted to take a holiday, even for her own wedding.
After the birth of her first son, Antanas, Ona soon becomes pregnant
again. She becomes very upset, but will not tell Jurgis why. After
she fails to come home one night, Jurgis confronts her. She breaks
into tears and tells Jurgis that a foreman named Connor has forced a
sexual relationship on her. Jurgis curses her and runs off to find
Connor.
After beating Connor to a pulp, Jurgis is sent to jail for thirty
days. The judge refuses to listen to Jurgis’s story seriously. When
Jurgis is released, he finds that his family has moved to an even
poorer neighborhood, and Ona is in labor at that very moment.
Neither the baby, nor Ona, who went into labor two months early,
survive. Jurgis pulls himself together for the sake of Antanas and
gets a job. When Antanas drowns in the mud-filled street, Jurgis
gives up on Packingtown and his family. He hops aboard a passing
train, and leaves Chicago.
Jurgis enjoys a “hobo” life, wandering across the country. When
winter comes, he is forced to return to Chicago. He gets into a
fight in a bar and is sent to jail. In jail, he meets Jack Duane, an
experienced criminal. After being freed from jail, Jurgis and Duane
team up in a luxurious, but risky life of crime. Jurgis learns about
the connections between criminals, police, politics, and big
business. He becomes a member of this complex network and moves into
politics. He runs into Connor again, and beats him to a pulp a
second time. Connor’s political connections cause Jurgis to lose all
his acquired profit. Jurgis is back to wandering the streets.
To keep warm, Jurgis walks into a Socialist meeting. After the
meeting, he is introduced to a man named Ostrinski, who teaches
Jurgis about Socialism. Jurgis agrees completely with the political
party’s ideals, and becomes an active member. As the story ends, the
results of an election are being received. The novel concludes on a
positive note, showing that the Socialist party made significant
progress all across the country.
The Jungle is a novel that casts an evil light on America, business,
and politics. It promotes the concept of Socialism, emphasizes
corruption in our society, and makes wage-earners look like slaves.
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