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The Jungle: Critical Analysis

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The Jungle: Critical Analysis

The Jungle is a novel that focuses its story on a family of immigrants who came to America looking for a better life. It was written by muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair, who went into Chicago and the stockyards to investigate what life was like for the people who lived and worked there. The book was originally written with the intent of showing Socialism as a better option than Capitalism for the society. However, the details of the story ended up launching a government investigation of the meat packing plants, and ultimately regulation of food products. It gave an informative view of what life was like in America at the time, and some of the parts of it that were not talked about. Important topics like immigration, working conditions and sanitation issues of the time were all addressed well in the novel.

Immigration was one of the heavy themes in the novel, including where immigrants came from and why they came to America, and how they were treated once they got here. The story is about a man from Lithuania, Jurgis Rudkus, who takes his family to America in hopes of attaining the American Dream. A family he knows has lost all their money to creditors in Lithuania and now have nowhere to live, but a member of the family, Jonas, talks about how a friend he knows who immigrated to America and had great success. The majority of the immigrants who came to America at this period, during the Industrial Revolution, were mainly "Lithuanians, Poles, Slovaks, or Bohemians" (28). Before them it was the Irish, and then before them the immigrants mostly coming to America were German (70). The reason that Jurgis decided that he would go to America is because of all the great things he had heard about it, about the ideal of being free. He had heard "In that country, rich or poor, a man was free, it was said; he did not have to go into the army, he did not have to pay out his money to rascally officials--he might do as he pleased, and count himself as good as any other man" (23). This is what many immigrants believe in, and they wanted to come to the country in hopes of finding the American Dream, where they could work hard and make their way to the top of the ladder, where they would live freely in success.

However, the reality of what America was like was very harsh to most of the immigrants that flocked to it during the Industrial Revolution. For Jurgis and the eleven others he brought with on the voyage, they found that immigrants were often exploited in every way possible because they lacked knowledge of the country and the language. As they set out on the voyage to America, they were tricked by an officer into taking his passport, and another officer arresting him and charging him for it. They were also cheated out of their savings when they arrived in New York when an agent forced them to stay in his lodge that was much too expensive for them to afford (18). But when they reached the town, a stockyard called Packingtown where Meat Packing Plants were, it shows just how much advantage was taken of all these immigrants. Real Estate places would build houses out of poor material, then advertise the old houses as brand new for three times the cost it was to build them (69). The houses also had charges on interest, taxes, water and insurance that were not explained up front to the immigrants, who were unable to read and comprehend the deeds they would sign. All the jobs were paid at desperately low wages due to the high number of demand for work, since there were so many people that had immigrated and ended up homeless and poor, and needed a job to survive (83).

The working conditions for these immigrants at the meat packing plants were appalling and displayed how badly in need of a change they were. Workers in the factory that did unskilled labor would be paid only somewhere between a mere fifteen to twenty-five cents an hour. They would have to work from early in the morning until it was dark at night, with only a half hour break for lunch. They had no choice but to accept whatever position they would be able to get, no matter how retched it was, because there were thousands of others trying to get the same opportunity. Jurgis, for example, gets a job shoveling the entrails of steer at the slaughterhouse into vats that grind the leftovers up and then boil them into lard using chemicals (44). Where he works there is never a cooling system in the summer, and he works where the killing beds are, where the meat is cooked and hot steam fills the room. Then, in the winter, there is no heater, and with the weather in Chicago it is sometimes below zero where the people have to work. Jurgis' father, who had to work in one of the cellars which was unheated in the winter, developed a sickness from the cold and he had to work with his shoes soaked in chemicals, which chewed through and ended up developing wounds on his feet (81). Those who worked in the hot cooking rooms in the winter were said to have the most danger, "Because whenever they had to pass to another room they had to go through ice-cold corridors, and sometimes with nothing on above the waist except a sleeveless undershirt... The cruelest thing of all was that nearly all of them--all of those who used knives--were unable to wear gloves, and their arms would be white with frost and their hands would grow numb" (85). But these were only a few of the regular bad working conditions, there were still more that would make things very difficult for women and children too.

Many times in the immigrant families, the women and children would also have to get jobs, just to have enough money for the family to barely get by. The family had their thirteen year old child Stanislovas get a fake birth certificate that said he was sixteen just so he could work in the factory, and then he was given a job where he had to stand all day in one spot placing cans under a lard machine, where the stench was fowl in the summer and the cans froze his hands in the winter for only a mere five cents an hour (76). The women had to get jobs to help pay for the cost of a horrible living too, and Jurgis' wife Ona had to get a job where ultimately she was forced into working at a brothel afterwards or else was threatened to lose her job as well as the rest of her families' jobs. Ona's cousin Marija replaced a man at a job as a beef-trimmer, because she was just as strong but could be paid half the wages because she was a woman (111). All the time, these workers in factory lines were forced to work at backbreaking paces, because they had to keep up with the people in front of them moving the line so quickly. What supervisors would do is pay some of the meat cutters at the front of the line a little extra to work at a very rapid rate, and they would stand over them making sure



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