The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is about a Lithuanian family led by Jurgis. Jurgis and his family move to America in search of the American Dream. They moved to Chicago with only a few dollars. They had no jobs. Jurgis was a large and strong man. This made it easier for him to find work. He was hired by a meat packing company. He received a mere seventeen cents an hour.
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On top of his ridiculous wage, working conditions were horrible. He felt these conditions exploited workers. There was a huge lack of sanitation. There were, “Rats running on the meat.” There were humans who fell in the meat chutes and were left there to process with the cow and pig meat. Everyone turned their heads as if nothing happened. This was probably partially if not mostly in fear of being fired and having to try and find work elsewhere. Before long, Jurgis’ optimistic views were shattered, and he realized it is very hard to get ahead in America. Soon the whole family was forced to work. Jurgis and Ona finally get married, but the wedding puts the family further and further into debt. They learn from a neighbor they have to pay interest on the house each month. Ona is forced to find work. Working conditions continue to get worst. Jurgis begins making less and less money.
Ona and Jurgis have a child. Jurgis hurts his ankle and is unable to work. This puts even more stress on the family. Jurgis finds a job in the fertilizer factory. He starts drinking because of how bad the conditions are. Ona becomes pregnant, again. She begins not coming home and when Jurgis investigates, she admits she is having an affair with her boss to save the family. Jurgis confronts Ona’s boss. They get into a confrontation and Jurgis bites his cheek. This lands him in jail. At the Jurgis’ hearing, Ona’s boss denies his involvement with Ona, and Jurgis must serve thirty days in jail. When Jurgis gets out, he returns home to find it painted a different color and another family living in their home. Jurgis goes to a friend’s house and discovers Ona is in labor two months early. Ona and their newborn die before the midwife arrive.
Jurgis’ struggle to find work increases because now he has been blacklisted by the bosses. He starts drinking again. He bounces from working at a machine shop, then a steel shop, and then he runs off and becomes a wanderer who bounces from place to place. He returns to the city and finds a job digging runnels. He gets hurt and returns to the life of begging. Jurgis meets a wealthy young man who feeds him and gives him a hundred-dollar bill. Jurgis tries to cash the money in and is swindled by a bartender. He is thrown in jail, again. When he gets out on bail, he meets a man named Dwayne. Jurgis enters the world of crime in Chicago by mugging people.
Jurgis is recruited by democrats for a strategic job to help get a republican candidate elected. They tell Jurgis to campaign in Packingtown. It works! The Republican candidate wins. During a worker’s strike, Jurgis uses this opportunity to advance himself to a boss position. Jurgis soon runs into Ona’s old boss and beats him. Jurgis ends up in jail, again. Jurgis’ friend bails him out, and Jurgis runs away. He returns to the life of begging. An old friend tells Jurgis where Maria is, and Jurgis discovers she is prostituting to support the family.
Maria’s home is raided, and they all go to jail. Jurgis get out of jail and goes to a socialist meeting. Jurgis is inspired by the speaker and believes socialism will improve working conditions and lead to a happy life. He soon learned people cared more about the meet packing atrocities than the exploitation of the workers. He finds a job at a hotel. He becomes more and more involved with the socialist movement. The socialist leaders are hopeful their influence will continue to grow, especially in Chicago.
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