Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
While he is still a peasant boy in Lithuania, Jurgis Rudkus falls in love with a gentle girl named Ona. When Ona’s father dies, Jurgis, planning to marry her as soon as he has enough money, comes to America with her family. Besides the young lovers, the emigrant party is composed of Dede Antanas, Jurgis’s father; Elzbieta, Ona’s stepmother; Jonas, Elzbieta’s brother; Marija, Ona’s orphan cousin; and Elzbieta’s six children. By the time the family arrives in Chicago, they have very little money. Jonas, Marija, and Jurgis at once get work in the stockyards. Dede Antanas tries to find work, but he is too old.
They decide that it will be cheaper to buy a house on installments than to rent. A crooked agent sells them a ramshackle house with a fresh coat of paint that he describes to his ignorant customers as new. Jurgis finds his job exhausting, but he thinks himself lucky to be making forty-five dollars a month. At last, Dede Antanas also finds work at the plant, but he has to give part of his wages to the foreman in order to secure his job.
Jurgis and Ona save enough money for their wedding feast and are married. Then the family finds that they need more money. Elzbieta lies about the age of her oldest son, Stanislovas, and he, too, gets a job at the plant. Ona is already working. Dede Antanas works in a moist, cold room, where he develops consumption. When he dies, the family has scarcely enough money to bury him. Winter comes, and everyone suffers in the flimsy house. When Marija loses her job, the family income diminishes. Jurgis joins a union and becomes an active member. He goes to night school to learn to read and to speak English.
At last, summer comes with its hordes of flies and oppressive heat. Marija finds work as a beef trimmer, but at that job the danger of blood poisoning is very great. Ona has a baby, a fine boy, whom they call Antanas after his grandfather. Winter comes again, and Jurgis pulls a tendon in his ankle while attempting to avoid a rampaging steer at the plant. Compelled to stay at home for months, he becomes moody. Two more of Elzbieta’s children leave school to sell papers. When Jurgis is well enough to look for work again, he can find none, because he is no longer the strong man he was. Finally, he gets a job in a fertilizer plant, a last resort, for men last only a few years at that work.
One of Elzbieta’s daughters is now old enough to care for the rest of the children, and Elzbieta also goes to work. Jurgis begins to drink. Ona, pregnant again, develops a consumptive...
(The entire section is 1046 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The abuses in the meatpacking industry were known before the publication of The Jungle. In the 1898 intervention in Cuba, some three thousand American soldiers died from eating canned beef, and (soon to be President) Theodore Roosevelt himself testified against the Beef Trust. The Hearst newspapers brought about a Senate investigation, and there were several muckraking exposés, but little changed until Sinclair’s fateful trip to Chicago to observe immigrant workers at work. Although he had little interest in them as immigrants, Sinclair’s descriptions of their customs, mentality, and behavior are some of the best in American letters. Similarly, he had little interest as such in attacking the beef industry. He dedicated the novel “To the Workingmen of America,” underscoring his goal of improving their overall conditions rather than exposing the filth prevailing in the country’s slaughterhouses. After the sensational success of The Jungle—in London, Winston Churchill penned a glowing review article—Sinclair avowed that he aimed at the public’s heart and accidentally hit it in the stomach.
Between the opening chapter of an ethnic wedding and the closing scenes of a political rally, the novel traces more than two years in the life of a newly arrived Lithuanian immigrant family. Lured by the advertising blitz that promised them the American Dream, they instead suffer almost unbearable exploitations and deprivations at the...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
Life in Packingtown
Life of Crime
Chapter 1 Summary
In turn-of-the-century Chicago, a wedding is taking place among the Lithuanian emigrants. Fifteen-year-old Ona Lukoszaite is marrying Jurgis Rudkus, a laborer in the meatpacking industry. Ona’s cousin, Marija Berczynskas, is in charge of the wedding preparations. After the marriage ceremony at the church, the wedding party travels to a neighborhood bar, where the celebration lasts into the small hours of the morning. Marija, the last to leave the church but the first to arrive at the bar, finds a large crowd of people at the door. It is the tradition that all passersby are welcome to join the festivities.
Ona, a small, pale, shy girl, is the complete opposite of large, dark, outgoing Jurgis. She sits quietly in the...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Jurgis is a giant of a man. He was born in the country and is a reliable worker, strong and full of energy. He never saw a city in Lithuania because he lived in the Imperial Forest with his father, Antanas. His brother had joined the army and has not been heard from for ten years. His sister married and remained on the farm when her father and brother came to America.
Jurgis met Ona a year and a half previously, at a horse fair. Her father was rich and proud and did not approve of Jurgis as a suitor for his daughter. However, Jurgis journeys for two weeks to try again to convince him to allow him to marry Ona, and he finds that the rich man is dead and his estate tied up with creditors. Ona’s step-mother, Teta...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Jokubas knows a policeman employed by the Durham meatpacking house who might be able to arrange for jobs for some of the new immigrants. Jurgis is sure he can get a job on his own, which he does after standing in line at the packing house door for only half an hour. Jokubas talks to the policeman and is encouraged by his assurance that jobs will be found.
Jokubas takes his friends on a tour of the meatpacking house. He brags that every part of the pig except the squeal is used. He leads them through the enormous cattle pens, where cows of all ages, sizes, and colors can be found. Pigs are also there. Among the livestock are men on horseback, who ride through the herds and drive them up to the loading ramps. The group of...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
At seven o’clock the next morning, Jurgis shows up at the door of the packing house, ready to work. He waits two hours; the foreman said to show up at the door but did not say anything about entering it. Jurgis is put on the line, sweeping the intestines of the butchered cows into a trap. The atmosphere is hot, the smell is overwhelming, and the blood is deep enough to wade through. It is a heavy work day, so Jurgis works until seven o’clock that night. He is overjoyed that he has made more than a dollar and a half. For several days, this is the regular schedule.
Marija marches through various factories, looking for a job. She is consistently turned away until she impresses a forelady with her size. She is given the...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Now that they have bought their house, the family worries about how to furnish it. Their funds are very low; they stay awake at night worrying about it. They see an advertisement for a company that will furnish a four-room home for seventy-five dollars, with reasonable payments. They feel worried about going into further debt, but the family decides they must have furniture. They are excited when it arrives even though it is not quite enough for a family of twelve. Jurgis brings home some packing cases to make some dressers. Even so, some of them have to sleep on the floor. Ona and Jurgis feel that soon they will be able to get married.
Jurgis is enjoying his job. Shoveling intestines into the trap is hard,...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Jurgis and Ona have been a couple for almost two years, but they still do not have enough money to get married. They consider doing without a wedding feast, but this upsets Teta Elzbieta so much that she cannot sleep at night. She clings to Dede Antanas, and the two oldest adults worry that this new country will undermine the virtues brought from Lithuania. Teta Elzbieta buys a small shrine and hopes it will bring lasting stability to their home. Ona suggests that she may get a job. As she and Jurgis consider this, they encounter another tremendous roadblock.
A neighbor, Grandmother Majauszkiene, has lived in Packingtown for many years. She tells them the history of the neighborhood, and there do not seem to be many...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Jurgis and Ona are finally married, but the wedding feast leaves them one hundred dollars in debt. The morning after the wedding, the family goes to work, half asleep from the late hours and heavy eating. Ona cannot be late or she will lose her position. Stanislovas almost loses his job when he twice falls asleep at the lard-filling machine. It takes a week for all of them to recover. Jurgis regrets putting his new wife in such a precarious position, in which she must work so hard merely to survive. He vows to work harder so that her life will be easier.
Dede Antanas must work in an unheated basement, walking through a floor saturated with corrosive saltpeter. In time, his feet are lacerated with sores and he cannot...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Marija becomes the target of the affections of Tamoszius Kuszleika, the petite violinist at Jurgis and Ona’s wedding feast. They are complete opposites in size—Marija is a rather hefty young lady as well as being loud, aggressive, and boisterous. However, Tamoszius has a way of looking at Marija that starts her blushing. Tamoszius plays frequently at weddings and celebrations. He asks Marija to accompany him and is overwhelmed when she says yes. Thereafter, Marija always goes with him when he plays, and she returns home with her pockets full of sandwiches and cakes for the children. If friends of Tamoszius are hosting the celebration, he invites the entire family. He is exceptionally jealous, however, and gets upset if Marija...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Due to his interest in the union meetings, Jurgis resolves to learn English so he can understand and participate more. He begins by studying with the children as they do their schoolwork, and then he learns that there are free night classes. Every evening, Jurgis goes to the class, even if he can make only the last half hour. The union also presents him with the idea of democracy. The union is like a small country, where each man has a vote. He has discovered that, as in Russia, there are rich men who own everything, but in the union he has a voice to determine leadership and action.
One day at work, a man approaches Jurgis and asks if he would like to be a citizen. Jurgis is excited at the prospect because this would...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
As winter gives way to spring, the family’s worries grow. Jurgis still does not work a full day, and the canning factory has not reopened. Marija must put off plans to marry. The water pipes freeze, causing a flood in the house. The price of the repair is staggering. When Ona and Teta Elzbieta go to the agent to make their house payment, they learn that they are also required to buy insurance and they must pay taxes and water bills. If the city decides to put in a sewer or a sidewalk, this will be even more money. Soon Ona discovers that she is pregnant.
When the warm weather arrives, so do the flies. The heat inside the factories is unbearable. Marija is overjoyed when the canning factory reopens, but she is fired...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
During the summer, the packing houses are once again at full speed. However, Jurgis does not make as much money as he did the year before because more men are added into the system. This is to ensure that there are trained workers in the event that the regular crew goes on strike. The reduced hours also ensure that the workers are too poor to save up money to go on strike. At the canning factory where Marija used to work, a strike occurs but lasts only a few days. The women’s wages are cut nearly in half. This worries Jurgis and Ona, who fear that a strike will come in their workplaces. There is a monopoly on the beef market by the packing house owners, which limits competition and prevents the workers from finding a place with...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Jurgis remains in bed for three weeks; his ankle remains swollen and painful. Eventually they call a doctor. He tells Jurgis that he has injured a tendon and must be off his feet for two months or risk being lame for life. After a couple of days, Jurgis tries to go back to work, but he almost faints from the pain and has to be carried home.
A few days later, another blizzard hits. Ona and Stanislovas head off to work but return around noon. Stanislovas has frozen his fingers. He screams with pain as his fingers are thawed out. This annoys Jurgis, who threatens to beat him. In the morning, Stanislovas refuses to go to work so Jurgis does beat him, and he must beat him each morning after that. Ona fears she has lost her...
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Elzbieta’s youngest child, Kristoforas, dies shortly after eating a sausage. He was born with a congenital birth defect and has always been unwell and crippled. Subject to infection, he caught cold frequently, and his coughing and snuffling annoyed everyone. Only Elzbieta feels grief at his death; the others feel only a cold relief. There is no money for a funeral, and Jurgis says that the boy will have to be buried by the city in a pauper’s grave. This infuriates Elzbieta, who berates Ona for standing by and listening to this without objecting. Eventually, Marija says she will contribute ten dollars. Jurgis will give nothing, so Elzbieta goes to the neighbors and soon raises enough money to provide a hearse, a grave, and a...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
The family now knows the secrets of the meat packing industry. They know that the odd bits of meat that are too spoiled to be sold are chopped up into sausage or else canned. Chemicals and preservatives are added to change the taste of the spoiled meat and to cover the foul odor. Rats crawl over exposed piles of meat and cover them with their droppings. Workers do not bother to remove the dead rats before they send the meat into the grinder, but there are worse things than dead rats in the meat that is sold to the public. All the meat is the same, but flavorings are added to make it “special” and so bring a higher price.
Elzbieta has now succumbed to a numb silence as she stands for hours at her sausage machine....
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Ona goes through periods of intense crying. After each time, she promises Jurgis that it will never happen again—but it does. In the fall as the holiday season approaches, the women begin to work overtime, sometimes fifteen hours a day. They feel worn out, but they are glad for the extra money it brings. A day or two before Thanksgiving, another snowstorm comes. Elzbieta, Marija, and Jurgis make it home all right but Ona is missing. Jurgis had fallen asleep, but the women wake him up to tell him. He dresses and heads out into the storm to find Ona. It is early morning when he arrives at the stockyards. There he is told that Ona timed out and left at the regular time. No one knows where she went. Jurgis tries to trace down his...
(The entire section is 472 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Jurgis is exhausted and half dazed from his attack on Connor, so he submits quietly to the policemen. He has been in Packingtown for two and a half years, so he is aware of the brutal reputation of the local police. When he is thrown into his cell, Jurgis initially feels some satisfaction at his vengeance on Connor. As his senses clear, however, he realizes the enormity of what he has done. Ona will surely lose her job and he will go to prison; he might even be executed. Ona and the others will not have enough money to live.
Jurgis cannot sleep. The other prisoners, as well as the homeless who are allowed to spend the night in the jail, make too much noise. The smell of fertilizer draws contempt from the other...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
On Christmas Day, Jurgis is let out of his cell to get water for cleaning. There is a small exercise area; visitors may come to see the prisoners, separated by two walls of wire. Jurgis looks anxiously to see if any of his family has come, but they have not. When he returns to his cell, he has a cell mate. He introduces himself as Jack Duane and explains that he is a safe cracker. He is an educated man who has fallen on hard times. His father had some bad business luck and committed suicide. Jack had no options, so he turned to a life of crime. Jurgis asks if he thinks of his family at all, but Jack explains that he does not allow himself to do that. Jurgis is fascinated by Jack; he is the only educated person with whom he has ever...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Jurgis patiently counts the thirty days until he is released. When the thirty days are up, he finds that he is still in prison. He learns that he must pay court costs for the privilege of being sent to jail. He has no money, so he must serve another three days.
When he is finally released, Jurgis is sent out into a recent heavy snow without a coat (he did not wear one when he rushed out of the house to get Connor). He had enough to eat in prison, and the work was the easiest he had ever done. It is raining and he has no idea in which direction his home lies. He asks a boy where the stockyards are, and the boy sends him in the wrong direction. Jurgis reaches the city limits and finds himself in a rural area. He stops a...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Jurgis arrives at the home of Madame Haupt, a German midwife. She is fixing her dinner when Jurgis enters. She is overweight, unhealthy, and filthy. Jurgis is overwrought and has difficulty making her understand what he wants. She explains that she has just come back from a case and has had nothing to eat all day. He begs her to come help Ona. Madame Haupt tells him her fee is twenty-five dollars. His hopes fail; he tells her all he has is a dollar twenty-five. She explodes, telling him that she would not put on her hat for that amount. He rashly promises to get her the rest, but she doubts this when she learns that he has just been released from prison and has no job, and he has no friends from whom he could borrow the money....
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Jurgis stays drunk for two days. When he returns to Aniele’s home, he finds that Ona has not yet been buried. Aniele berates him for spending all the family’s money on liquor while the women and children have been out begging for money to pay for a mass for his wife. She is to be buried in a pauper’s grave, but enough money has been raised to pay for the mass in advance.
Jurgis climbs up to the attic to find Marija sitting there, as far away from Ona’s corpse as she can. Jurgis sits by Ona, thinking of how much he has loved her and how this life has killed her. He blames himself for her death; she was just eighteen. Elzbieta and Marija have agreed to not say a word of reproach to him. Elzbieta has gone through...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
After learning of the closure of the factory, Jurgis goes home, disheartened by yet another exposure of the falsity of the American Dream. He thinks it is a mockery that a man loses his job because he is successful at it. For two days, Jurgis is down, but he does not drink because Elzbieta has the keeping of his money. Antanas is hungry and cries, and Madame Haupt is demanding the rest of her money for attending Ona’s childbirth. Jurgis roams the street for ten days, often sleeping in the police station to escape the sub-zero temperatures. Only the money the children earn from selling their newspapers keeps them from starving. They have encountered some danger as well. One time a woman threatens to call the truant officer on...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
At the news of Antanas’s death, Jurgis calmly goes up to the attic and views the body. Marija explains that Antanas demanded to go out to play and fell off the sidewalk, which is five feet about street level. She assures Jurgis that he is dead; they had called the doctor. Jurgis says nothing. He goes down the ladder and out the door, then he starts walking down the street.
Jurgis keeps walking until he comes to a railroad crossing. A freight train is passing, and on a sudden impulse Jurgis jumps up into one of the cars. When the train stops, he hides under the cars, fighting in his soul. He gets back on the train, deciding that he is no longer bound to anyone. He will live only for himself, without any obligations....
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
In the early fall, Jurgis returns to Chicago with fifteen dollars in his pocket. He separates himself from the other tramps because he has money and they do not. On warm nights, Jurgis sleeps outside in any place he can find where he will not be bothered. In bad weather, he finds cheap lodging houses; he knows the fifteen dollars must last him probably two months until he can find a job.
Jurgis returns to the steel mill and the harvester works, but his positions were given to other men long ago. He avoids answering the want ads in the paper, knowing that most of them are scams by people charging money to procure jobs. However, his next job is the result of his answering an ad. When he applies, Jurgis is asked if he has...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
In the midst of the freezing weather, Jurgis rambles from place to place, trying to find sufficient lodgings for the night. He is allowed to stay in saloons only so long as he buys drinks; eventually he is kicked out. There are many homeless men this winter, and there is stiff competition for warm places to sleep. One evening, Jurgis sees a figure in a blue coat approaching him. He fears being arrested, so he ducks down a street and runs into a drunken, well-dressed, young man called Freddie Jones. He explains to Jurgis that his girlfriend has thrown him out and now he is on his way home. Freddie says his family is away, and they have left him very little money. He invites Jurgis to come home with him. He tells Jurgis to stop a cab...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
Jurgis feels humiliated by Hamilton’s treatment, but he is appeased when he remembers that he still has the hundred-dollar bill Freddie Jones gave him. He realizes he will have difficulty changing it because people will assume he stole it. He goes into a saloon and asks the bartender to change it for him. The bartender says he will exchange it if Jurgis buys a drink. Jurgis buys a five-cent beer, and the bartender gives him ninety-five cents in change. A fight breaks out, and Jurgis once again finds himself in court appearing before a judge. The bartender claims that Jurgis gave him a one-dollar bill. When the judge learns that Jurgis has been in jail before, he sends him back to prison for ten days.
While in jail,...
(The entire section is 394 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
After the election, Jurgis keeps working at the packing house and stays away from any political activity. There is pressure on the police to stop providing protection to criminals. Jurgis has three hundred dollars in his bank account, and Mike Scully tells him that something might “turn up.” He finds a place at a decent boarding house. He learns that Elzbieta and her family have moved downtown. He forgets them and spends more time with his gang of single young men, who party around town; he turns to gambling and women.
In the spring, the meat packers and the unions have to make a new agreement. Because the price of meat has gone up, the unions want the laborers’ wages to go up as well. The packers do not agree and...
(The entire section is 558 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
Jurgis now lives like an outcast. He is as poor as he has ever been, but it feels worse because he has become used to a higher standard of living. He expects more but receives less. The hard times continue across the country, and Jurgis is unable to find any work, even performing chores. He buys day-old bread, but eventually even that is beyond his means; he looks through the trash for edible bits. He steals a cabbage and must run to avoid capture. The Chicago newspapers open up soup kitchens, but the lines for these are so long that Jurgis rarely gets any food. It is election time, but few people are interested. He attends a meeting but it brings back too many memories of when he had more money and more influence in the political...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
In the morning, Jurgis is driven to the court along with the arrested prostitutes and clients. He is terrified when he sees that it is the same court and the same judge he had when he had a sentence suspended in the days of his activity with the political machine. Jurgis is believed to be a “suspicious character,” so he is tried separately. The other clients are reprimanded and released. Jurgis said he was only visiting his sister, so he is told to keep his sister in a better place. He is released as well, but the prostitutes are fined five dollars each, which is paid by their madame.
Jurgis and Marija return to her room in the bordello. Jurgis asks Marija if she has been ill; her face looks like yellow parchment...
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
Jurgis is overwhelmed with emotion at the close of the speech. He no longer sees himself as a victim of fate but as an active agent in his own destiny. Another man, the chairman of the party, steps up to speak, but his voice is weak compared to that of the previous speaker; it seems to be a profanation of the mood. A collection is taken up but Jurgis does not have a single penny to give. The floor is opened to questions, which seems like a sacrilege to Jurgis. This calls for action, not talking. He feels ready to organize and fight the forces of injustice. As the discussion goes on, Jurgis sees a more realistic picture in which he is a “hobo,” dirty and smelly.
When the meeting breaks up, Jurgis is distraught. Since...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
After Jurgis has breakfast with Ostrinski and his family, he goes to Elzbieta’s home. He does not speak about his past misdeeds and guilt; he only talks of his newfound purpose in Socialism. At first Elzbieta thinks Jurgis has lost his mind, but she eventually believes that his insanity is confined to his political views. She is impervious to his Socialist arguments. At last she agrees to go to some meetings, but she does not countenance paying dues to the Socialist Party.
For a week, Jurgis wanders the streets of Chicago, trying to find a job. On a whim, he enters a hotel and asks if they have any work for him. When the manager asks what he can do, Jurgis states that he is able to do anything requested. He assures...
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Chapter 31 Summary
Jurgis goes to see Marija as soon as he gets a job. He tells her that she can quit her job as a prostitute and leave. She says she cannot. Not only is she now a drug addict but she will not be able to escape her past. No matter where she goes, there is always the likelihood of some man recognizing her and revealing her past life. She tells Jurgis to leave; she will always be a prostitute. Jurgis finally leaves because he sees that he is irritating her. He walks away with deep sadness and returns to Elzbieta’s, who is ill a great deal of the time now. The boys have picked up many bad habits from the street and are out of control. Jurgis despairs when he thinks of what his family has become.
One evening, Jurgis receives...
(The entire section is 450 words.)