Literature & Life

Savage and Unforgiving World in the Upton Sinclair's Novel THE JUNGLE

THE JUNGLE is a story about a Lithuanian family. This family moves to Chicago and finds work in the meatpacking industry in Packingtown. Jurgis is the protagonist of this novel who is going to marry Ona, a young and beautiful girl, but before marrying her; he needed a job. Therefore, he tries his luck in the meatpacking plants, where thousands of animals are slaughtered, butchered, and packaged for consumers all across the world. As Jurgis is physically strong, he gets hired very quickly. Marija, Ona’s cousin, also finds a job as a can painter, and the rest of the family desperately searches for work to escape poverty.

Later on, they decide to buy a house and they spend all their money on it. Jurgis’ father, finds difficulty in getting a job, but later on, he also finds a job as he gets ready to work with low wages. Jurgis comes to America to live an American dream but he soon realises that it was difficult to survive there for an immigrant. Finally, Jurgis and Ona get married, but all the wedding expenditure puts the family into further debt. Along with that, they come to know from a neighbour that they need to pay interest on the house every month, which makes Ona and Stanislovas, a young boy, also find work for that. Due to the horrible work conditions, Jurgis’ father dies.

When winter comes, it becomes more difficult for the people to survive there. As many people die due to terrible work conditions. Meanwhile, Marija finds her true love in Tamoszius, who is a violinist, and they both decide to marry. But unfortunately, she loses her job as her factory shuts down. Now it becomes more difficult for Jurgis to provide for all the needs of the family. Later on, Jurgis is offered to become a citizen of the United States for voting a particular candidate. This creates Jurgis’  interest in politics and he also decides to learn English.  When Jurgis observes the political atmosphere there he becomes aware of the corrupt political system in Chicago and he also finds out that a man named Mike Scully is a very powerful man there.

Marija gets her job back, but due to some reason; she loses it again and Ona gives birth to a baby boy who is named Antanas. Meanwhile, Jurgis gets very busy due to his work. But one day while working he sprains his ankle and the injury was very serious that is the reason why he is unable to work. He becomes jobless; the economic condition of the family becomes worse.  He had to take several months of rest due to his serious injury and when he recovers; he again begins his search for the job. Finally, he finds a job in the dreaded fertilizer factory. Due to the bad economic conditions; Ona’s stepmother is also forced to work in the sausage factory. Jurgis works in the worst working environment. As he had to work with such working conditions; he starts drinking.

Ona gets pregnant for the second time but this pregnancy doesn’t bring happiness to their family as it was very difficult for them to raise a child with their poor economic condition. Meanwhile, Jurgis comes to know that Ona has been raped by her boss. Jurgis thrashes the boss… blood and skin drip from his teeth. Jurgis is then taken to jail. When Jurgis is taken to the court for the trial; Ona’s boss denies his involvement with Ona in the court and therefore Jurgis is sentenced to jail for thirty days and along with that his bond is set at three hundred dollars. Stanislovas, Ona’s stepbrother visits Jurgis in jail and tells him about the bad conditions they are going through, Jurgis couldn’t help yet gives them all the remaining money he had as his family needed it desperately.

Jurgis returns home after being released from jail. He walks twenty miles to his home in Packingtown.  When he reaches home; he finds out that the house has been sold to someone else. He visits Grandmother Majauszkiene, who informs him that his family had to sell the house as they could not pay the rent. The agent threw them and sold the house to another family. The grandmother gives him the address of the boarding house where they stayed when they first arrived in Chicago. When Jurgis reaches there, he finds out that Ona is in premature labour and she is having her delivery at the boarding house as they couldn’t afford a doctor. So Jurgis borrows some money from others to bring a midwife, but the midwife needed more money… and after so much bargaining she arrives with him to the boarding house and when they arrive there, Jurgis is sent out until Ona delivers the baby… Jurgis goes out and spends his night in a saloon. He returns to the boarding house at 4 a.m. He finds the midwife all covered in blood. She tells him that the baby died… and Ona is taking her last breath…! Finally, Ona also dies.

Jurgis is devastated by the death of his wife and his newborn baby. So he goes to the bar and begins drinking. When he gets sober, Ona’s stepmother asks him to find a job for the sake of his elder son but unfortunately, Jurgis couldn’t find work in Packingtown as he was blacklisted by all the bosses. But after a great struggle, he finds a job in a machine factory, but unfortunately, several days later Jurgis’s department closes until further notice… Again, Jurgis begins his search for the job. Finally, Jurgis gets a job in a steel factory, but he had to stay away from his family as he couldn’t afford to waste his money on travelling. So, he travels home only on weekends.

One day, when Jurgis comes home, he discovers that an accident has occurred with his son Antanas and he has drowned in the mire of mud in the streets… Jurgis looks at his dead son and leaves the house without saying a word. He feels great grief about losing his son. He goes to the countryside and starts living a life of a tramp, wandering from place to place. Later on, Jurgis returns to the city and finds a job of digging underground tunnels for railway freight but unfortunately, he gets injured and breaks his arm and had to live a life of a beggar.

While begging on the streets Jurgis encounters a drunk wealthy young man one day who offers him meal and even hands him a one-hundred-dollar bill. Jurgis realises that he cannot get change of a hundred dollar bill as people may think that he has stolen the money but somehow he had to make the change for that bill so he goes to a bar and buys a glass of beer at five cents but the bartender cheats him and returns him only ninety-five cents. Jurgis gets angry when he finds out that he has been cheated so in a fit of anger he attacks the bartender but suddenly a policeman rushes there from somewhere and Jurgis is dragged into the jail. The judge sentences ten days of imprisonment for him.

At the jail, Jurgis meets a man named Duane who is a criminal. By spending his time with the criminals Jurgis learns that he can survive in a better way by being a criminal. So, he enters the world of crime in Chicago and starts mugging people. While living the life of a criminal Jurgis finds that the whole system is corrupt. Later on, he has been introduced to a corrupt politician. The politician gives him a special task to join a union to support a Republican party candidate. So Jurgis starts working tirelessly for the republican candidate and finally after the elections the Republican candidate wins as planned. In May, the union and meatpackers have some disagreements, and so they go on a strike. Jurgis gets promoted as the boss. The meatpackers start bringing in thugs and scabs from all around the country. During that time Jurgis encounters Ona’s boss who raped her, so in a fit of anger, he attacks him and again he is thrown in jail. He calls Harper for help but he comes to know that Ona’s boss had good relations with the Jurgis’current boss so Harper couldn’t help but he can only lower his bail so that Jurgis could pay the bail for his release. Jurgis is then advised to run away from the town. After running away, he again had to live the life of a beggar on the streets.

One day he meets an old friend on the streets who gives him the address of Ona’s cousin, Marija. When Jurgis goes to visit Marija; he finds out that she has become a prostitute to provide economical support to the family. Suddenly, the police raid Marija’s place as it was a brothel and Jurgis is also arrested with the rest of them. Marija tells Jurgis that she didn’t have any other options but to choose prostitution to feed the family. She also tells him that Ona’s stepbrother is dead. Later on, the woman who ran that brothel pays fine for all the prostitutes and Jurgis lies and uses a fake name to get released from there.

When Jurgis is released from jail, he comes across a socialist political meeting and gets inspired by the speech of the speaker as he could relate to everything the speaker said. He tries to find more information about that political party so he is then introduced to a man named Ostrinski who could speak Lithuanian. Ostrinski gives him detailed information about socialism, the miserable conditions of the wage earners, the difference between the classes etc. which Jurgis could relate easily. He feels for the first time that he is not alone. Jurgis also inspires Ona’s stepmother to get involved in socialism. Later on, Jurgis finds a job as a porter at a hotel and starts getting more and more involved in Socialism.

At the end of the novel, the Socialist party achieves great success in the elections and with this victory, the socialists become hopeful that socialism will be spread all across the country. So, the main objective of the writer for writing this novel is to tell the readers to adopt socialism by elaborating the evils of capitalism. Sinclair thinks that capitalism is inhuman and that is the reason why he depicts the failure of capitalism in this novel and portrays socialism as the cure for all the evils caused by capitalism.

Jogan More

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