How is graft represented with beer in the book The Jungle?

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engcor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is a dark, gritty look at the conditions in which the contemporary working-class families lived.  It is a story of poverty, brutal working conditions, corruption, and danger.  These horrible conditions are allowed to fester, in part, due to political corruption.

Graft is when a politician utilizes their position for personal gain by exploitation.  The relevant quote in The Jungle that deals with this is the following:

"At the last election the Republicans had paid four dollars a vote to the Democrats' three; and 'Buck' Halloran sat one night playing cards with Jurgis and another man, who told how Halloran had been charged with the job voting a 'bunch' of thirty-seven newly landed Italians, and how he, the narrator, had met the Republican worker who was after the very same gang, and how the three had effected a bargain, whereby the Italians were to vote half and half, for a glass of beer apiece, while the balance of the fund went to the conspirators!" (Sinclair)

Basically, each party was bribing voters to vote for them, and a group of newly-arrived Italian immigrants was to be taken to the polls and bribed as well.  Rather than bribing the Italians with money like they were supposed to, the democrats and republicans who were given the task decided to split the votes down the middle and offer the Italians a glass of beer instead of the money.  The people who hatched the plan took the money remaining after purchasing the beer and kept it for themselves.

The political corruption contained within this quote should be appalling, but pretty much the same thing still happens in the Chicago area.  Politicians rent out large spaces and have free BBQs for their constituents.  Free burgers, corn, lamb, beer, Pepsi, always right after an election.  The “volunteers” who work the picnic are generally people who have been given some sort of favor by the politicians.  They call the BBQ a celebration, but it is almost exactly what was going on in The Jungle.