Quicklet on Upton Sinclair's The Jungle By Rebecca Meredith Table of Contents

Quicklet on Upton Sinclair's The Jungle Table of Contents
By Rebecca Meredith

Table of Contents

I. Quicklet On Upton Sinclair’s The
Jungle
About the Book

About the Author

List of Key Characters

Overall Summary with Embedded Character Descriptions

Key Terms and Definitions

Major Themes and Symbols

Interesting Related Facts

Sources and Related Online Content

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Quicklet on Upton Sinclair's The Jungle Quicklet On Upton Sinclair”​​s The Jungle
By Rebecca Meredith

I.

Quicklet On Upton
Sinclair’s The Jungle

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About the Book

In researching this book, Upton Sinclair spent several weeks undercover working in the
meatpacking industry. His book, The Jungle, which was published in 1906, was written as
a composite of figures and fates he encountered. He was called a “muckraker” in
dredging up the truth about the meatpacking industry, and would expose many other
social injustices in nearly 90 other books. The awareness he brought, reaching readers
emotions in this book are held partially responsible for the passing of “The Pure Food and
Drug Act” and “The Meat Inspection Act” by President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress.

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About the Author

via http://www.bobfelton.com/?p=6523

Other topics Sinclair wrote about include the hunger for power and social injustices by the
New York elite in “The Moneychangers,” the exploration of the coal mining industry and
its exploitations by an elite man – like Sinclair’s investigative method for The Jungle - in
“King Coal” and the family oil business and industry in “Oil” which has now been made
into a powerful, and two-time Oscar winning movie There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel
Day-Lewis, Paul Dano and Ciaran Hinds.

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List of Key Characters

via
http://www.wadsworth.com/history_d/special_features/image_bank_US/1889_1920.html

Jurgis Rudkus

Jurgis is the protagonist of the book and is characterized as a protector figure. He is dark
haired with a hulking figure and large arms, making him an ideal worker. He is hard-
working and believes, initially, that his own will and determination will bring him success in
America. He is the husband to Ona, and father to Baby Antanas, named after his father,
Antanas. When Jurgis’ hopes are lost in a series of disillusioning tragedies in the course of
the story, Jurgis loses hop and gives himself to crime, and is eventually returned to his
role as a loyal family man, a hard worker, and with a voice for his new hope, Socialism.

Ona Lukoszaite

Ona is a fair-haired, blue-eyed, birdlike, petite and childlike woman. She is characterized
by her feminine and childlike dependence on Jurgis, her husband, and by her loyalty to
her family, a cause of many troubles to her both before she married Jurgis, and
afterwards. Ona’s purity of heart and small frame contribute to her eventual sad death
during the birth of her second son with Jurgis.

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Cousin Marija Berczynskas

Marija joins the family with some money in her pocket to make the trip to America. She is
characterized by her loyalty to her family through self-sacrifice, and her vivacious self-
sufficiency. Marija puts great energy into using social connections to better her income,
which she then devotes completely to her family, whether it serves to uplift or to
demolish her own well-being.

Tamoszius Kusleija

The companion and beloved of Marija, a violinist who communicates through his talent.
Yet, his small earning don’t allow him to provide for Marija, and his eventual accident
disables his ability to play music.

Teta Elzbieta

Devoted mother and pragmatist, Aunt Elzbieta has two deformed sons, and doesn’t let
emotion or tragedy interfere with her sense of duty to provide for her family.

Stanislovas

13 years old, and skinny Stanislovas is the second “man of the family” and feebly
attempts to work to help provide for the family, although he is only paid half-wage
because of his status as a “child” by employers. His weakness eventually kills him, and he
is found half-devoured in his workplace, where he was accidentally locked in for the night.

Grandpa Antanas

Grandpa Antanas, Jurgis’ father, is old for his age, but is determined to work to help
provide for the family. This work eats away his toes, and in a cold room gives him a
permanent coughing ailment, which eventually kills him.

Baby Antanas

Antanas is the child of Jurgis and Ona, named after Jurgis’ father Antanas. The baby
eventually dies when he steps off the sidewalk and drowns in the water. He is the light of
Jurgis’ life in the darkest of times, and this death is the catalyst which completes Jurgis
alienation and abandonment of his family.

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Overall Summary with Embedded
Character Descriptions

via http://www.scribas.com/flashbacks/image/1431

The Jungle traces the story of a family from Lithuania who emigrated to the United States
seeking wealth. They come as a couple to be married, an elderly father, a strong large
woman, an aunt with several children, some of whom are crippled, and a single, middle-
aged man. Together they pool their money and set out together to navigate a foreign
country without any English, personal connections, or know-how in this new society. The
book can be divided into three parts, which I’ve titled Dreams and Disillusionment (1),
Deal with the Devil: Fend for Yourself (2), and Rebirth of Hope Through Socialism (3).

In the first section, the family arrives in Ellis Island in New York, makes their way to
Chicago, and then step-by-step deals with every possible wrong turn and misfortune as
they try to build their new lives and survive. The reader’s hope for the family is likewise
dashed, as each character’s misfortune weakens their sense of wholeness and
connection to their love for one another.

The story opens with a scene representing a crossroads in which hope and tradition of a
couple getting married are pitted against a scenario in which the celebrants take
advantage of the innocent for their own benefit, leaving the couple in debt. Old world
traditions and hopes. New world greed and disillusionment.

The Lithuanian wedding is put on with food and drink offered to the guests, and then
guests in turn are meant to offer up a sizable donation to start the couple off on their
new lives. Instead, the bartender finds a way to cheat the couple by beginning with one
keg half empty and ending with one half full and charging for two kegs; the guests
manage to slip outside with their stomachs full and not return, thus avoiding the financial
gift they are obligated to offer in good will.

At the wedding we are introduced the 12-15 main characters of the book. Among those,

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the married couple is made up of fair and blue-eyed, petite and birdlike Ona
Lukoszaite, who is worrying about the expense of the event more than enjoying it, and
her larger than life and dark-eyed betrothed, Jurgis Rudkus, who stands watch over the
party and assuages Ona’s worries. He says, “Leave it to me; leave it to me. I will earn
more money – I will work harder.”

In fact, the very first scene opens energetically with Cousin Marija Berczynskas on the
way to the wedding, “the occasion resting heavily upon Marija’s broad shoulders” . Marija
shouts orders to all like a powerful conductor, roaring in her native tongue and
gesticulating to the carriage driver who doesn’t understand her to hurry up! She causes a
scene that makes heads turn and people on the street join in. Marija is a willful force of
energy, a short but mighty woman, who is bent on having this wedding in America in the
tradition of Lithuanian weddings.

Marija is an orphan who was for many years abused by her boss until she one day
realized her strength and nearly killed him. “Marija was one of those hungry souls who
cling with desperation the skirts of the retreating muse.” Made mighty by her passion and
inspiring others to join in, Marija’s life both before our story begins and after, swings
between two poles as someone who either prevails over all, protecting, keeping people in
line, or else succumbs, helpless and alone, to the will of a tyrant.

At this wedding, as the conductor of energy and work, she matches up with the leader
and violinist of the wedding trio, Tamoszius Kusleija. He himself is a force, spurring the
party on into a frenzy of dance, celebration, and drinking, pushing the band to exhaustion
for their 10 hours of performance. Whenever he chances to rest, it is Marija who leaps
upon him and her passion forces his bow to begin again, and his wonderful music spurs
the rest of the people. Together, they are passion and energy, and without a talent for
words, it is music that later in their lives connects them to each other.

Ona and Jurgis fell in love at first sight. Ona was of an educated and wealthy class and
Jurgis was from a people who worked the land. Ona is marked by her loyalty to her
family, and Jurgis is known for his sense of rising to the task for Ona. He worked hard to
earn enough to bring her and her family to America, as she would not marry or voyage
without them. Jurgis’ friend had told him that he had gotten rich from the stockyards in
Chicago. “So America was a place of which lovers and young people dreamed. If he could
only manage to get the price of a passage, he could count his troubles at an end.” Of
course, when the narrator tells us this, we can sense that the opposite will prove true.

This first third of the book which I’m referring to as “Dreams and Disillusionment” sees

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the group of 12 meet every possible misfortune. They begin determined to find work, to
send the kids to school, to keep Ona and her Aunt Elizabeth, or Teta Elzbieta, at
home. Marija finds work, characteristically, by asking literally everyone she meets for
weeks. Jurgis with his looming figure and large strong arms is picked form the crowd of
unemployed in half an hour on his second day to sweep blood in the factory.

13-year-old Stanislovas finds a job in a canning factory, as child labor laws are not
enforced, only knowingly lied about. Jurgis’ father, Antanas, was a scholar in Lithuania,
and at an age 60 is determined to make himself of use. He gets a job in a cold cellar,
which gives him a fatal cough, and his feet burn from acid on the ground. Eventually
Jurgis hurts his foot, and the children must sell papers to bring extra income, which
makes them unruly. Ona must get work by bribing her boss, a seamstress, who resents
Ona for her married status, as all the other working women are “kept,” or prostitutes.

The miseries of the Durham meatpacking factory are itemized by the narrator, even as
we are showed Jurgis viewing the vast workings of the machinery and men in concert in
it, naively, as a “wonderful poem” (23). Thus much of the book contrasts the narrator’s
all-knowing preaching and foreshadowing of doom with the characters attempts to make
their way and survive with their souls somewhat intact. The family tries to plan their lives
with every precaution, but with no English, guidance, or legal protections, they are firmly
taken advantage of. In fact, even if they had known a little more about the customs of
this new country, the opportunity for a decent life has no example in the world in which
the characters live. There is only the rich few, and the depraved and broken, working
class majority.

via
http://www.wadsworth.com/history_d/special_features/image_bank_US/1889_1920.html

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Each person is out for themselves in business, and the height of injustice is found in the
fact that the working man, and the working woman (at half the wage), and the working
child (at one-third the wage), have no workers’ rights. There are unions, but they have
little power, because there are always new immigrants to take the place of workers
demanding their rights.

The newcomers are equally bright-eyed and desperate to survive and succeed, and their
lack of English makes communication between seasoned and new workers unlikely, if not
impossible. Each new group of immigrants arrives with nothing but a need for work and
survival, and this makes them desperate in the face of unfair demands and hazardous
environments by the employer.

The story also addresses the horrors of the workplace. For example, the pace is kept up
at the factory by paying a few workers higher wages to go fast, and then rotating them
frequently. This speed causes maiming injuries that will impair future work – of course
without compensation or treatment. The main characters encounter many risks, including
death in boiling vats of water, diseased meat processed as food for sale, sunstroke in the
summer, acid burns on fingers and toes, rats ground into sausage, mislabeled meat for
sale, potato leftovers supplemented in food, leftover meat parts rehabilitated with food
coloring and sold as “deviled ham” or “potted chicken” at hospitals and in army barracks,
old butter collected from markets to be oxidized and then recombined with milk for sale.

Beyond work hazards in the meat factory, we see blackmail and rape by a boss who can
blacklist the entire family and get off easy in court, thug policemen who are in
simultaneously in charge of crime rings, corrupt politicians, and rigged elections. Wealso
see strikebreakers thwarting the attempts of the union to find small steps of justice, and
factories open and close at random, offering no job security.

As misfortunes befall the family, they struggle to hold internal ground while they are
degraded physically. Jurgis’ job is now in fertilizer, which is the most lethal of the jobs. In
the winters, he hoists Ona over his shoulder and small Stanislovas holds onto his coattails,
or else they would die in the cold, unable to walk. One of Teta Elzbieta’s two cripped sons
dies. Grandfather Antanas dies from the cough of the work he insisted upon for pride and
money. Uncle Jonas abandons the burden of the family. Ona’s boss threatens to have her
whole family blacklisted, (effectively condemning them to death, one step below the
starvation and desperation they are already experiencing) if she wont allow him to
repeatedly rape her.

Upon finding this out, Jurgis rips the man to shreds and spends their second Christmas in

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America in jail. Mighty Marija, who has been supporting the family rather than marry her
beloved musician Tamoszius, loses her job as well as some of her hope. Jurgis, after his
injuries and work in the fertilizer section is in constant pain, and takes to drinking his
wages to cope, as bars tempt him at every block. The baby of Ona and Jurgis, named
Antanas after Jurgis’ father, is Jurgis’ only light and hope. Ona dies covered in blood in a
borrowed attic (after eviction from their home) during a preterm birth in which her baby
is sideways and there is no midwife to help Ona in time.

Teta Elzbieta’s “grief being crowded out of her soul by fear” (113). “Elzbieta’s soul had
been baked hard in the fire of adversity, and there was no altering it now; life to her was
the hunt for daily bread” (185). Having endured the loss of three children, she is
pragmatic, neither hoping too much or losing all hope, but always striving to find the next
meal or else die trying.

Without offering Jurgis sympathy or reproach after Ona’s death, she begs him not to stop
working as his son Antanas, who is his spitting image and joy, needs his labor. This despite
the fact that Ona and Jurgis had realized at his birth that he was doomed to the same
miserable life they had found for themselves in America, Jurgis complied until one day
Baby Antanas stepped off the sidewalk – which is made of trash anyways – and drowned
in the water. One has to imagine that this is a city without codes, roads, drainage, sewers,
and so on. At this, Jurgis, without a tear, “fought a battle with his soul,” succumbs and
loses hope and thus begins the second section of the story: “Deal with the Devil: Fend for
Yourself.”

Jurgis, who was known in the first part of the story as a mighty man who would “work
harder” and take care of everyone despite impediment or injustice, lets go of his family
responsibilities and leaves Chicago. He feels “unwelcome in the world in every way.” He
hops a train and tries the hobo life in the countryside, living for the day’s bread. He has
been disillusioned, has had his eyes opened by every possible injustice against himself or
fellow worker.

One farmer offers to employ him for the season, but Jurgis from experience now
recognizes that this would not include work and shelter for the cold winter, and Jurgis
would then starve. Jurgis asks the farmer, “When you get through working your horses
this fall, will you turn them out in the snow?” The farmer sees that he would treat his
workhorse better than he would this working man. Thus, Jurgis is disassociating himself
from a system that does him no service. Jurgis sees now that he is like the innocent hog
described by the narrator in a description of the factory for visitors. It is not a “wonderful
poem” to Jurgis now, but a businesslike nightmare in which his life and labor is given no

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account. The story is titled The Jungle as a reference to the fact that the people live like
animals, hunted, hunting each other, in chaos.

It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was porkmaking by
machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-
fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very
trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests–and so perfectly within their
rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing
was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without the
homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine
ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all
unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.

One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without
beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog squeal of the universe. Was
it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a
heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs
was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were lack. some were brown,
some were spotted; some were old, some young, some were long and lean, some were
monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and
a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-important, and a sense of
dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black
shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway.

Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg.

Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it – it did its
cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his
throat and watched him gasp out his life. And now was one to believe that there was
nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog
squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort
him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice?

From living on the lamb and for the day, Jurgis returns to the city and lives a life of crime,
robbing the innocent, also he realizes “reflectively, ‘he never did us any harm.’” Jurgis
works as a the head of strikebreakers, or “scabs,” working against the desperate working
men and unions he had once been a part of. Jurgis knew himself a traitor but at least with
new opportunities in crime, he didn’t drink to numb his pain, only when he would try to
forget what he had become.

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The third section of the book, which I’m calling “Rebirth of Hope Through Socialism,”
comes when Jurgis sees Marija in her life as an addict and a prostitute. In their reunion,
the present meets the painful past he had tried to forget. Marija was no longer powerful
but had returned to her weaker alter ego.

Although she worked to support her family, she was addicted to opium, a prostitute, and
most importantly, she saw no reason for hope or the possibility to overcome this fate.
She was resigned to die in this manner, although still loyal to her family. He learns of
another grotesque death of little Stanislovas who accidentally falls asleep at his job, is
locked in, attacked and found half-eaten by a horde of rats.

via
http://open.salon.com/blog/jlw1/2011/11/21/mr_gingrich_i_would_ease_child_labor_laws-
11_photos

After this jolt of reality between the past and the present, Jurgis stumbles upon a speaker,
and “the sentences of this man were like the crashing of thunder in his soul.” Jurgis
realizes he has made peace with being soul-crushed. The most important thing Jurgis
realizes he must hold on to is his hope, his soul, even if his body is crushed. This was the
greatest loss he could experience as a human being. Throughout the book, there are
many references to the journey of the soul of characters, rising, retreating, fighting back.

The fear of becoming a “lost soul,” the “soul rising up within him like a sleeping lion,” of

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“the human soul, with a personality all its own, a will of its own!,” “the soul of Jurgis was a
song for he had met the enemy and conquered, and felt himself the master of his fate,
“the soul of Ona was not dead–the souls of none of them were dead, but only sleeping;
and now and then they would waken, and these were cruel times.” “It aroused a demon
in his soul.” Even the city has a soul: “the inner soul of a city in which justice and honor,
women’s bodies and men’s souls, were for sale in the marketplace, and human beings
writhed and fought and fell upon each other like wolves in a pit.”

“And Jurgis was a man whose soul had been murdered, who had ceased to hope and to
struggle – who had made terms with degradation and despair.” As Jurgis heard this
speaker talk of the working man, and essentially introduce him to the world of Socialism,

“There was falling in of all the pillars of his soul, the sky seemed to split above him–he
[Jurgis] stood there, with his clenched hands upraised, his eyes bloodshot, and the veins
standing out purple (179)…A mighty upheaval that had taken place in his soul, a new man
had been born. He had been torn out of the jaws of destruction, he had been delivered
from the thraldom of despair; the whole world had been changed for him–he was free, he
was free! Even if he were to suffer as he had before, even if he were to beg and starve,
nothing would be the same to him; he would understand it, and bear it. He would no
longer be the sport of circumstances, he would be a man, with a will and a purpose; he
would have something to fight for, something to die for, if need be!

In “a world which grinds the bodies and souls of human beings into dollars” Jurgis had
found a path towards justice. The remainder of the book takes place as a dialogue of the
different tenets for and against socialism by specialists and speakers that Jurgis is
listening to.

In fact, there is no dialogue in the first third of the book. In the first section of the book,
the narrator tells us how the world works as we watch the characters misstep;
figuratively, they cannot speak. Only once Jurgis is in jail in the second portion, does
dialogue begin. The narrator points out that there are “there is one kind of prison where
the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another
kind where the things are behind the bars, and the man is on the outside.” In the second
portion, Jurgis is free and poor, but he has begun to see, to think, to question, to search
for a way to survive.

In the third section of the book, once Jurgis has discovered socialism and begun to regain
his hope, support the remainder of the family in order to maintain a connection with a
past with people he cared for, he begins to listen, to hear the voice of speakers and

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thinkers. Now, even with imperfect English, he can both speak and listen, understand and
communicate as an equal. By the end of the book, Jurgis is even a public speaker for the
people, a teller of his own story, as an advocate of socialism. The story ends with an
election full of hope, in which the socialist party celebrates “Chicago will be ours!”

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Key Terms and Definitions

Socialism

Socialism has a complicated history and differs in its philosophy according to which
proponent referred to, in which country, in which time period. Its essence can be
referenced by a quote form social activist and writer Karl Marx who wrote in his
Communist Manifesto, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his
needs.” Often, socialist action aimed to protect the worker through the establishment of
workers unions and legal workers rights.

Classicaly, socialists (such as Karl Marx in his three volume work “Das Capital”) object to
Capitalism (see definition below) because they believe capitalism doesn’t protect the
laborer’s rights, and permits rampant exploitation by the employer without recourse.
Socialism was enacted primarily by industrial workers who came together from many
independent labor unions to form the “Industrial Workers of the World.”

Unions

Unions are formed by workers to protect their physical rights, provide fair wages, and to
represent the workers as a whole, and with the aim of crating a forum for negotiation
between the employer and the worker. Unions aim to establish a standard for working
conditions through a process called “collective bargaining,” which will be referred to and
abided by by all related businesses and/or by law. Union members must pay dues to a
union leader as part of their commitment and unification.

Because of unions, today, in the event of lack of communication between workers and
employers, workers have the option of withdrawing their services as workers without
losing their jobs, in a what’s called a “strike” (See term definition below). Unions are also
responsible for the establishment of common practices today such as the eight-hour work
day, which is clearly not yet in practice at the time in which The Jungle was written.

Movies about Unions include Bread and Roses, Hoffa, Final Offer, Norma Rae, American
Standoff, Emergency Brigate and The Grapes of Wrath.

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Capitalism

Like Socialism, the definitions of Capitalism vary by author, time period, and geographic
location. However, a basic working definition of capitalism is a social system in which
private owners employ workers through wage labor to create goods. Goods are then
either used as assets by companies or purchased by consumers.

The exchange between workers labor and employer assets, as well as consumer
purchase power with money (as opposed to a bartering system) creates a three-way
exchange of commodities, in which both labor, assets, and goods can be considered
commodities. The production of capital, or assets, or products, gives capitalism its name.
Unlike socialism, capitalism emphasizes private ownership and competition of the market
to set prices through Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand.”

Worker’s Rights, and Worker’s Compensation

Workers Compensation is one of the first new laws in America established by the social
action of unions, socialists, and writers like Upton Sinclair in his work “The Jungle.”
Workers Compensation protects a workers job or income (through wage-replacement)
should s/he incur injury while on the job. As seen in The Jungle, when workers were
injured at work, regardless of who was at fault (what if it was the machine, for example?),
the worker would simply lose their job, and potentially starve to death, with no legal
recourse to protect their bodies, or assess blame for the accident.

Workers Compensation involves state law in protecting a worker within his particular
business by broad legal standards. Other Workers Rights that appear later in history
include “Americans with Disabilities Act”, protection against discrimination based on
marital status and political affiliation and laws against nepotism, amongst others.

The Food and Drug Administration

The FDA was established to protect and inform consumers of content of products and to
ensure quality control. The FDA came to exist partially as a result of the awareness
brought by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Acts to come out of the FDA include the “Federal
Meat Inspection Act,” “Food Quality Protection Act” to reduce risk of pesticides, and
“Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”

Disillusionment

A psychological state experienced when ideas which existed in concept form, such as
dreams and hopes, are confronted by an experience of reality that contradicts that

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dream, resulting is a deflated sense of hope or fantasy. When experiences of reality
depresses a previously unrealistic expectation built by concept alone.

Alienation

The psychological experience in which a person feels himself to be cut off from an
accepted and grounding social existence. A resultant disconnection from reality as
understood by others can occur, as well as a sense of depression and placelessness.

Lithuania

Northern European Country, a Baltic people who speak Lithuanian. Lithuania was rural at
the time when The Jungle was written.

via http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/lithuania.htm

Strike

Workers unite to cease work, in an attempt to gain negotiation leverage with their
employer.

Scabs/Strikebreakers

Replacement workers that voluntarily take the jobs of workers who have gone on strike,
thus undermining the negotiation position of the striking workers. The name derives from
the idea of a temporary and ugly cover for a blight or harm incurred. Often strikebreaker
pull from a group of people who are even less fortunate than the workers currently
striking – they are desperate for jobs and will work under even the worst conditions.

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Major Themes and Symbols

Old World Meets New World: The Adjustments of the Immigrant

From all over the world came people through Ellis Island in New York to enter America.
Many languages and cultures streamed into America. The bringing of traditions and
languages and the lack of familiarity with the English language, American law or work
system, created incredible challenges for adjustment and opportunities for exploitation
and loss of communication.

Conceptualization of America as the “Land of Dreams”

America was viewed as a place in which one could get rich. This sense of hope brought
many families and people to America with the expectation that with hard work, they
could live a comfortable life. What they usually found, was that they had no stability to fall
back on, and that dreams weren’t enough to enable their survival.

The Soul: Its Location, Purpose, and Loss, and Recovery

The soul is a term frequently used in The Jungle as that which drives a person, which,
when lost, can make a person susceptible to great physical and psychological harm. It is
the soul which the person may retain when they’ve lost all dignity to their physical lives,
when every injustice has been done to them, it is an inner sense of hope that allows them
to remain true to their inner self, and their sense of having a soul.

Human Behavior and Human Nature as Structured by Culture

When Jurgis and family come to America, they expect support, the ability to be self-
sufficient. What they find is that capitalist greed, and self-serving human nature, try to
profit at every turn, no matter how inhuman or indignifying the cost. The culture is shown
to influence whether a person values the collective well-being or only their independent
well-being.

The Value of a Human Life in the Machine Age

The factory and meatpacking plant exhibits indifference to human life, will, dignity and

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emotion. In its methods of employment, without labor laws and protections, its workers
become similarly undignified, and machine-like, treating their fellow workers without
respect or humanity, and aiming only to get the most profit.

Rebirth and Socialism

Jurgis experiences socialism from a speaker who speaks at the pulpit. Jurgis feels himself
reborn with new hope, and a new possibility of connection and loyalty to his family and to
his personal story and memories.

To Have a Voice, Literally and Figuratively

What does it mean to have a voice? In The Jungle, one has a voice through politics and
social action, and this is literally embodied as dialogue emerges only halfway through the
book when Jurgis begins to think critically about the social system he is participating in.
He learns to use his voice for social change once he discovers Socialism, which coincides
with his assimilation into American culture by his sufficient capability to speak English.

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Interesting Related Facts

This tradition of writing about social injustices from the point of view of fictional narrative
with all its powerful symbolism, emotional reach and subjective point of view, falls under
the style of “New Journalism.” One of the first new journalists was a Danish-American
police officer named Jacob Riis, whose published account of New York neighborhoods and
tenement living conditions, “How the Other Half Lives” accompanied by his own self-
taught photography (at a time when photography had recently become portable), were a
model for new laws protecting the renter, and interrupting reckless business practices of
slum lords.

The tradition of New Journalism was continued by writers such as John McPhee, Tom
Wolfe, George Orwell, Gay Talese, and more recent “New New Journalists” Joan Didion,
Susan Orleans, Mark Singer, and Adrian LeBlanc. Some attribute the beginning of New
Journalism to writers such as Charles Dickens who wrote sympathetically of the poor, and
caricatured the upper class. However, Dickens cared less to moralize than to pull the
heartstrings of the reader.

Upton Sinclair, by contrast, was clearly on a mission to change policy through the
empathic power of fiction. Although The Jungle takes the form of fiction, the structure
and message of the book makes clear to the reader that the fate of the characters is
dark, the moral injustices intolerable, and the the righteousness of Socialism is overtly
prophesied without apology.

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via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jacob_Riis_-_Bandits’_Roost.jpg

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Sources and Related Online
Content

Click through these links for more details about Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, and related
information:

On Meatpacking, Then and Now:

100 Years Later, the Food Industry Is Still ‘The Jungle’
Meatpacking
Muckrakers & Reformers

About Upton Sinclair and his books:

Upton Sinclair
The Literature Network: Upton Sinclair

The Reading of The Jungle, Then and Now:

The Mighty 'Jungle'
The Fictitious Suppression of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
Revisit to Old Hero Finds He's Still Lively
Sinclair's Jungle With All Muck Restored

About Unions:

A Brief History of Workers' Compensation

New Journalists today who look at Food Processing Issues:

Hungry for Change
Fast Food Nation
Super Size Me

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About The Author

Rebecca Meredith
Rebecca Meredith received her degree in Comparative Literature from
Reed College. She has since written lifestyle articles, literary reviews,
children's stories and travel accounts. Her interests are wide, and include
mythology, food, sociology, philosophy, travel, arts, history, biography, architecture,
design, illustration, interview style, new journalism, lifestyle, collaboration, personal
development, storytelling, teaching, psychology, and advertising.

Get in touch:

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