A Summary and Review of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle Upton’s Sinclair’s book portrayed a wide variety of characters to convey his messages. Only one character can be considered a major character, Jurgis Rudkus. The book revolves around Jurgis’ life in Packingtown. The supporting characters, transitioned in and out of the story with great frequency. When Jurgis initially arrives in Packingtown from his native Lithuania he can best be described as being large and powerful. He believes in the work ethic to a point of naivete.
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His sole answer to any setback: ” I will work harder. ” Eventually Jurgis learns that no laborer can make enough to be the sole provider for hisfamily. His only recourse is to send his wife and children out to work. Soon Jurgis begins to discover certain injustices that the meat packers employ to exploit their workers. Workers are worn out by a ” speed-up” system, they are not compensated for illnesses or injury incurred from their work, and they are literally paid by the hour, anything less than a hour does not get compensated.
Jurgis, frustrated with the current conditions in the meat packing industry, that uses the men the same way they use swine (every part), joins a Union, as does Marjia, and various other members of his family. Investingmoneyinto a home and life into his job gets a Jurgis no where. Positions of power tend to go only to the corrupted characters. Bribes and kickbacks come as commonly as unemployment and job insecurity. He finally realizes that even a physically strong man, willing to work hard, can be beaten by the system; indeed, the system must defeat and discard him as part of its ” progress” through exploitation of people for profits.
Eventually his luck runs out and Jurgis is injured upon his the killing beds at the meat packing plant. His foot swells and he has no other recourse but to lay in bed and wait until his foot heals. Ironically, he is free to enjoy the company of his son only when he is laid off from work. In just a few years after immigrating to the country, he is brutalized by circumstances to the point of ruin. His once mighty stature has been reduced to rubble, and looks seedy and wretched. He acts dull and beats young Stanislovas into going to work.
After two months of waiting, with bills pilling up, Jurgis goes back to work to find his job filled by another man. Due to his large house payment and the need to eat, Jurgis takes the worst possible job in Packing town, the Glue factory. By this time he has taken to the bottle and has started to move father and farther away from his family. The children have all been put to work, as well as his wife, Ona and his Grandfather-in-law Deda Antonias. To make matters even worse, Jurgis finds out that Ona has been forced have sex with her Boss.
This totally enrages Jurgis, he runs to the Packing house to find the boss, Connor, and then beats him savagely. After his arrest he must serve on month in jail. During his stay in jail he meets Jack Duane, and becomes somewhat good friends with him. Within the month his family is in shambles. The children now, for the most part, live on their own, various family member are dead, Ona is about to deliver a child, everyone has lost their jobs, and the house that they struggled so hard for has vanished away. By the time he finds Ona she is in mid child birth and in need of medical assistance.
Due to his current lack of funds, Jurgis finds a Dutch lady to deliver his child for $1. 25. Even with the help of the Dutch lady Ona and the child dies. After Ona’s death in premature childbirth, their son’s dies in an accidental drowning while his father is at work. Jurgis then takes to the country as a tramp. Through his journey in the country he gets somewhat rejuvenated, and returns to his old stature. He works when he needs to, and travels and sleeps when he wants. By winter it becomes obvious to him that he can not survive out in the country for the duration of the winter, and is forced to seek work in the city he left behind.
He becomes a bum, and drinks extremely heavily. While begging and wandering through the streets he, falls into a bit of luck and meets a young man named Frederick (” Freddie”) Jones. Freddie, being the son of rich Old Man Jones, takes Jurgis back to his home, giving Jurgis $100 and the privilege of dining and drinking with him. Eventually when the young man falls asleep, the butler throws Jurgis out. With the hundred dollars firmly in his possession Jurgis decides that the only place he could probably get change for the bill would be at a bar.
Jurgis goes into the bar when no one is looking, and asks the bartender to give him change for the bill. The bartender makes him buy a drink, and then hands him a handful of change. Jurgis becomes enraged, and pounces on the man. Jurgis gets arrested again for battery and lands in jail. With the assistance of Jack Duane he drifts into crime and the corrupt world of politics. Jurgis make himself available now as an assistant to a robber or to a political boss rigging elections. Ironically, under these evil conditions, he discovers a new confidence and a talent for management.
With a bit of luck and some help from newly acquired acquaintances Jurgis gets a cushy job in the meat packing factory. To keep this job, all Jurgis had to do was get the Democratic ticket elected, making the common man think that it was the best choice. During the 1904 meat packer’s strike, he gets a golden opportunity to become a scab and then a typical boss, driving his workers and taking bribes. A chance encounter with Connor proves to be Jurgis’ moral salvation. Jurgis gets arrested again for furiously beating his wife’s seducer and realizes that he must jump bail.
He has proven himself capable once more of moral fury, and he realizes bitterly which side he is really on. Cold and looking for a place to sleep, Jurgis stumbles into a Socialist meeting. He is profoundly moved by an orator who describes the life of the working class and how workers can take active measures to improve society. It dawns on Jurgis that he is entitled to join this movement. ” A new man had been born. ” He is no longer an isolated victim of circumstances; ” he would have friends and allies. ” Finally Jurgis reunites with Marjia, a doped up prostitute supporting the remains of his family.
They have definitely become two different types of people. Her the victim, and him the fighter, still struggling for justice. With the idea, that he might be able to once again support his family Jurgis goes out in search of a job. Apparently by luck, he finds a job in a hotel, run by socialists. By the end of the book Upton Sinclair, through Jurgis and various other characters, makes various speeches, and arguments for the use of Socialism with opposition to capitalism. Personal conflict was not the key theme of this book, but rather social conflict within the corporate structures. There is, however, some conflict among various characters.
The most notable instance occurs when Jurgis batters his wife’s Boss Connor, upon two occasions. This is his way to release his rage and anger at the man who abused, seduced, and molested his wife. Jurgis also has a conflicting view on how he looked at the people in the factories. He saw them as weak and lazy people, complaining because they could not handle their jobs. After the death of his wife and child, Jurgis goes on as self-destructive rampage through the city and the country. Not only does Jurgis conflict with others he finds himself in conflict with the legal system, and the factory system.
This causes him to make a mental shift to socialism. This also brings up the conflicting types of government, Socialism vs. Capitalism, in a obviously biased portrayal. The most important message of conflict that Upton Sinclair wanted to deliver was his idea that the individual is constantly conflicting with the trusts and work machines that enslave him. The Jungle contains numerous themes which create the perfect atmosphere for Upton Sinclair’s tragic book. In 1900 – 1904, industrialized America is a jungle. The only real law is the law of the jungle: might makes right.
The main problem is that the economic system fosters greed and ruthless competition as a way of life. Greed prompts people to sell spoiled meat, engage in false advertising, pollute, bribe and be bribed. In such a system, the hired worker lives at a distinct disadvantage. He is trapped, exploited, and cheated by employers who, in competition with other employers, must consider profits more important than people. The worker in early twentieth-century America is brutalized and stultified. Only that part of hispersonalityneeded to perform a monotonous task is kept alive; the rest is crushed.
Under these conditions, love is reduced to mere bestiality; the tender aspects of marriage and the raising of children are harshly overshadowed by the agonies of the economic struggle; and indeed, marriage itself becomes an economic trap. Big Business has complete control of, but noresponsibilityfor, the well-being of the masses. Big Business ultimately, deviously, controls government and the courts for its own benefit. In order to foster its corruption of politics, Big Business needs and thrives on crime and ultimately works in alliance with the criminal world.
Capitalist democracy is therefore a fraud, a contradiction in terms. There can be no true democracy in a society controlled by one class with hereditary economic power. Turn-of-the-century immigrants to America were lured into a trap. They were attracted by promises of economic well-being and politicalequality; instead, they were sacrificed on the altar of ” progress,” the generation that built industrial society for its native owners. ” Here, precisely as in Russia  . . . rich men owned everything. “
American greatness is due to exploitation. If we are the greatest nation the sun has ever shone upon, it would seem to be mainly because we have been able to goad wage earners to [a] pitch of frenzy. ” By using the characters in the meat-packing industry, Upton Sinclair is able to portray his Socialistic messages. In the end, Jurgis’ life is turned around because the character finds true ” freedom” andhappinessin Socialism. The entire book is a large piece of propaganda supporting Socialism. To say that it was only meant to be a piece of propaganda would be ignorant, and foolish upon any readers part.
Through his characters, Mr. Sinclair exposes a corrupt and brutal system in which on the law of the jungle reigns true. This belief is maintained by every single character in the piece. The author obvious had strong beliefs and motives for writing this book. Mr. Sinclair used his beliefs on socialism to provided an answer to how America trusts could be broken up. This book, (from American History Class) aided the common man to understand the horrid conditions of the meat packing industry, as did books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe, ironically a white woman fighting for the freedom of slaves in the 19th century.