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.
The book mentions nothing about the benefits of Capitalism.
Jurgis and his family moved from Lithuania to America,
expecting a better life. Instead of telling a story about
their success through hard work and dedication, Upton
Sinclair tells a story about how they were cheated before
they even got off the boat. Throughout the story, people
preyed on the family's ignorance. During the passage to
America, an agent appeared to be helping them but was
really cheating them. After arriving, they were constantly
cheated out of their money. The house they bought was a
total fraud, full of hidden expenses. Many members of the
family were able to get jobs only through bribery. Ona was
exploited by Connor, who threatened to have her, Jurgis,
and the rest of the family fired if she refused the
When Jurgis left Packingtown, he lived by thievery,
selfishness, and bribery. When Jurgis switched to this
amoral lifestyle, he finally became successful. The foremen
(and foreladies) of Packingtown also lived by corruption.
They fired union members, cheated people out of their pay,
and required "gifts" before hiring people. When a foreman's
boss learned of this, he required "gifts" from the foreman
to keep quiet. The police were also corrupt. They let
robbers go, and demanded a percentage of what the robbers
had taken. The politicians placed friends on the city
payroll, accepted bribes from criminals, and bribed the
police to avoid arrest.
In the book, anyone who earned a living through honesty
and hard work was trapped in poverty. Anyone who lied and
cheated to make a living was wealthy. This was the way a
Capitalistic society was presented in the book. It showed
that a hard worker was not rewarded, and was disposed of
when he/she became a burden. The book portrayed an honest,
hardworking lower class, and a dishonest, lazy upper class.
No middle class was described.
Toward the end of the book, Upton Sinclair shows the
reader how to solve Capitalism's problems: replace it with
Socialism. The Socialist party is promoted as an
international political party that will solve all of the
world's problems. Every member of the party was told about
the "Socialist revolution", when the entire planet would
become Socialist. Not once does the book mention the
possibility of failure. It even claimed Socialists would
control the country by 1912.
The Socialists despised the concept of competition. They
considered the commercial world to be the essence of
corruption. The goal of the Socialist party in The Jungle
was to end the corrupt and powerful Beef Trust. "In the
national capital it had power to falsify government
reports; it violated the rebate laws, and when an
investigation was threatened it burned its books and sent
its criminal agents across the country," (The Jungle, page
After reading The Jungle, a person would never expect the
United States to survive as a Capitalist country. The only
option shown to the reader is Socialism. The author never
mentions the good that Capitalism has done, nor does he
mention any possible flaws in Socialism. Socialism is
presented as perfection, while all other philosophies are
flawed. This makes the novel surprisingly one-sided and
The promotion of Socialism is understandable, though,
since Sinclair himself was a Socialist from an early age.
He was brought up in a poor and not very successful family.
This could explain why he became a Socialist, since one of
the main ideals of Socialism is equality for everyone. This
may also explain why he describes Capitalists as heartless
cheats, and describes working people as oppressed heroes.
The Jungle is, however, more than an advertisement for
It describes the horrors of the meat packing industry in
great detail. People were forced to work from before
sunrise to after sunset. In the meat preserving plants, the
floors were never dry.
The workers would catch horrible foot diseases, causing
them to loose toes and eventually entire legs. The butchers
would be forced to move at a blinding pace, often cutting
themselves and others. They would still have to work
though, or loose their job. Often, the wounds would become
infected, and the butcher would die of blood poisoning.
The book discusses all the things that were being shipped
out to the civilized world as "meat". Sausages were not
really made of sausage meat. They were mostly composed of
"potato flour"; an odorless and tasteless potato extract
with almost no food value. There were the cattle that had
been fed "whiskey malt"; the refuse of breweries.
These animals would become "steerly", or covered with
boils. "It was a nasty job killing these, for when you
plunged you knife into them they would burst and splash
foul-smelling stuff in your face," (The Jungle, page 99).
According to law, diseased meat could not be sold out of
the state. However, there were no laws restricting it's
sale inside the state. As a result, the
tuberculosis-infected hog meat never left Packingtown. It
was sold to the meat workers at inflated prices.
Another thing that shocked me while reading the novel was
the cruelty to animals. The animals were packed in freight
cars, and shipped across the country. Many of them died on
the trip. Once reaching Packingtown, each hog had a chain
fastened around its leg, was hoisted into the air, and
carried into a room where its throat was slit. When the
cattle reached Packingtown, they were stunned by electric
shock, and dropped onto a conveyor belt, where a man with a
sledgehammer pierced their skulls. These animal existed in
very poor conditions, especially the "steerly" cattle that
Despite the cruel conditions, the anti-American sentiment,
and the one-sided views, the novel was well-written. Upton
Sinclair did an excellent job of describing the massive
organization and efficiency of Packingtown. It is clear
that he despised Packingtown, for being a center of
Capitalism and for its working conditions, but he was
impressed with it. Packingtown slaughtered, processed,
packed, and shipped hundreds of thousands of cattle and
hogs every day. It ran twenty-four hours a day, seven days
a week, and never stopped. Even during holidays and during
union strikes, Packingtown still ran at full speed.
Now that I have read The Jungle, I am amazed that our
country survived to be the world superpower it is today. I
am even more amazed that we did not all die from eating
food made in such poor conditions. The novel did not
persuade me to become a Socialist, but I did consider a
vegetarian lifestyle. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed reading
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