The Jungle

The Jungle

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This book
was 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."
The Jungle 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
stifles the families spirits and then Dede Antanas, Jurgis' dad, dies.
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 give's birth to a
baby boy. The families third winter in America starts with Jurgis
getting injured on the job and Jonas, Elzbieta's brother, disappearing,
leaving the families 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

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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 meat packing 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 of 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 1900's. 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 the young,
fast, and strong workers, until they were to 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 than an unskilled
worker in Packingtown can make in five years. 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
happens 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 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 in 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 that 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 it's
truthfulness in it's descriptions.

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