Analysis And Reflection On The Jungle By Upton Sinclair
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair is a novel written in 1906 detailing the life and conditions that people in the early twentieth experienced. It more specifically details the experiences of Jurgis Rudkus and his family as they leave from Lithuania to the United States in hopes of more opportunities. It’s not soon after their arrival however that they become playthings to the people of Chicago and capitalism and the dreams of the family are silenced. Sinclair, throughout the length of the text, seems to accentuate and bring to the reader’s attention the true depth of struggles and injustice at the time and how activities at the time such as trusts and bribery made places such as Chicago a place not for those hard of luck, doing his best to show the reader how capitalism and its selfish practices had more negative than positive effects on the general public.
While The Jungle itself opens with what happens during Jurgis’ wedding and the celebration itself, Sinclair seems to try to create a stereotypical belief for a foreigner considering moving to America; that America was a place with high wages and opportunities. Jurgis hears that “a man might earn three rubles a day” and soon leaves for America with Ona, her family, and his father once the opportunity is available to them. Once they’ve arrived, they find themselves conned by the people of Chicago and their saving reduced before they manage to find their way to a friend of Ona’s brother, Jonas in Packingtown, the meat-packing section of Chicago. Jurgis finds himself a job in Packingtown and begins making plans with the rest of his family to purchase a home. Purchasing a home alone begins to create worry within the family and Jurgis comes to see that “in this land of high wages… it was also a land of high prices.” Inexperience, a language barrier, and a fear of the new setting makes them nervous of everyone and everything. As the men in the family must go to work, purchasing the home is left to the women of the home and Jonas’ friend, Jokubas Szedvilas, where they’re forced to agree to the suspicious contract and the choice of words stating that they’d be renting the home instead of purchasing it. Reluctantly, the deal is taken and it’s not until later that night does Jurgis learn about what has happened and rushes to another lawyer to confirm that all is still in order. Sinclair, through events like this and more creates situations and scenarios that put Jurgis and his family within hard choices and seem to highlight the corruption prevalent at the time. More lying, tricky, and conning occur throughout the duration of the text, generally only getting worse and challenging the family more and more with young Stanislovas forced to stop going to school to help the family make enough money to pay for the home and Jurgis’ father dying. Jurgis for the most part remains determined though, until one winter comes and Ona doesn’t come home from work until the next day, where Jurgis learns that her boss has raped her. Out of anger, he attacks the perpetrator and finds himself faced with a month in jail after an unfair trial in court. By the time he gets out of jail, he comes just in time to learn that his wife is in terrible pain before she dies from childbirth. Jurgis has begun to lose his faith in his dreams at this point, having lost his original job, his wife, and Jonas has seemingly disappeared entirely. Sinclair decides to truly place Jurgis against the worst that America has to offer him, with working conditions that lead to death and injuries more often than not as well as wages that are absolutely unfit for survival in the city. With only his son left, Jurgis tries to remain determined until his son dies of drowning during a rainy day.
Sinclair throughout the text attempts to challenge Jurgis while forcing the reader to observe everything that happens from the “poor man’s” point of view. Jurgis runs from home and after several months returns, determined to survive this time now that he is not held back by his family. Soon after his return, he’s begging on the streets where he runs into Freddie Jones who state’s that he is also a poor man. Meeting Freddie is a benefit to Jurgis, but also a strong contrast to us as the reader and as Jurgis himself. The class system makes a clear level of appearance here as while Freddie states that he doesn’t have much money, he is able to hand Jurgis one-hundred dollars without the slightest chance in attitude. Even his home is expansive and large, but the aforementioned class system seems to create tension in the house as Freddie’s butler looks at Jurgis with a sense of disgust before demanding that he leave once Freddie is unable to intervene. Sinclair then proceeds to highlight the corruption of the city through bribery as he Jurgis goes to a bar in an attempt to cash his hundred dollars to smaller denominations, only to be conned and sent to jail by policemen who were previously bribed. This time in prison is perhaps a saving grace for Jurgis as the next time he gets out, he is not a part in the corrupt political business of the country, helping to rig elections, con and commit robbery, and worse. Like all times before, this doesn’t last forever and Jurgis finds himself broke once more, begging for scraps and eventually finding the remaining parts of his family that he left behind. While searching for a job once more, Jurgis comes upon a Socialism rally and finds himself surprised at all the words and accounts given by the speaker. He finds this to be the truth due to his firsthand experience and he devotes himself to the success of the party in his free time, determined this time to see the capitalism that destroyed him and his family put to rest or at least some justice being received to benefit those that come in the future.
In closing, I feel that The Jungle was a wonderful and strongly worded text that seeks to provide a point of view on the trials and tribulations that many people were forced to experience and live though. For all but the brief period where Jurgis was involved in the corrupt and uncaring part of society, he and his family were portrayed as always receiving the short end of the stick and losing out on every opportunity. There was the language barrier upon their arrival, getting scammed from the moment of their arrival, as well as the terrible and arguably torturous working conditions that often lead to lifelong injuries, and even if there was no physical damage done from work, most work did not may enough for a family to survive alone. Even their home came with the cost of interest which there were never informed about, and it’s not until the end of the text does Jurgis learn about Socialism and decide to play his part in helping even the playing ground for the country. Upton Sinclair seems to have had the final goal of creating a world for characters such as Jurgis Rudkus to go into with a goal only to have it challenge and destroyed, detailing the potential corruption of capitalism with the creation of trusts and deals between companies and individuals to keep wages down and to squeeze every cent from every person. Throughout my reading, I initially felt that the text took too long to hook me as a reader, but as we begin to near the halfway point and things develop, I realized that taking so long to establish the setting and conditions actually helped to make us as the reader believe that everything that happens, could’ve actually happened in our world and likely did. The Jungle was an excellent work of text that I’d definitely recommend people read if given the opportunity.
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