The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 12 | Summary

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Summary

After three weeks, Jurgis attempts to return to work, but the pain in his ankle is excruciating. He finally calls a doctor who says that Jurgis has dislocated a tendon and must rest for at least two months. Certain his family will starve, Jurgis has no choice but to pull two more of Teta Elzbieta's children from school and put them to work. Stanislovas's worst fears come through, and he loses use of his fingers to frostbite. Still, he is forced to work at the canning factory every morning, with Jurgis often having to beat him with a stick to get him out the door. In order to survive, the family must borrow from Marija's wedding savings. Even Tamoszius Kuszleika impoverishes himself so the family can survive. On top of everything else, Jonas disappears. When Jurgis is healed, he tries to find work but no one wants to hire him. He is no longer strong and confident—he is as weak and beaten down as the old men he mocked upon first moving to America.

Analysis

The relentless deprivation is beginning to tear at the fabric of the family. The once optimistic Jurgis is now broken. He shouts and cries, even beating and cursing the children. Capitalism threatens to destroy the family as even more children are forced out of school and into the workplace. It's unclear whether Jonas has simply left to survive on his own (without a house full of hungry children to support) or whether he is the victim of a workplace accident, falling into a lard vat and being "made into pure leaf lard and peerless fertilizer." The benumbed family barely reacts to his absence. They only know that they cannot survive without his income.

In just a few short years, Jurgis has transformed from the optimistic hard worker who believed whole-heartedly in the American Dream, to one of the desperate men who hunts for work (and survival) outside the gates of the canning factories. When Jurgis first arrived, he thought these men were good-for-nothing and lazy. Now he sees that the system has stolen everything from them, even their humanity: "they had gotten the best of him ... and now they had thrown him away!"

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