THE JUNGLE presents the tragic story of Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian peasant, and his family and friends, who are lured to America with promises of good wages and quick wealth. In Packingtown, they discover that Chicago is literally a “jungle” in which the non-English speaking immigrant is easily victimized by crooked and unscrupulous employers, political bosses, labor leaders, and real-estate hucksters. They are brutalized by an economic system that exploits them for their labor and then discards them when they are no longer productive.
When Jurgis and his family first arrive in Chicago, they are confused and bewildered. He goes to work at a packing house for $45 a month, but soon his father, wife, and relations must also find work to meet their expenses. Despite their best efforts, they find themselves slipping into poverty, disease, and squalor. When Jurgis is injured at work, he loses his job, his father dies, and his wife and child become ill. After serving a prison term for violence, he drifts miserably from job to job until one night by chance he hears a lecture on socialism.
Sinclair’s bleakly deterministic novel was meant to dramatize the plight of the workers in the meat-packing industry, but the primary effect of his novel was to arouse his readers’ indignation over the unsanitary conditions in which their food was produced. “I aimed at America’s heart,” he remarked, “and by accident hit it in the stomach.” His...
(The entire section is 571 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Jungle Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!