The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter summarizes many of the disgusting meat-packing practices that were commonplace at the time of the novel's publication. Because the family works in all different sectors of the plant, they are witness to a variety of horrors, including repackaging spoiled meat, and poisoned rats being ground into sausage mixtures: "packers would put poisoned bread out for [the rats]; they would die, and then the rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together."

The family, slowly unraveling, works day and night in these horrific conditions. The family no longer finds any joy in the world. They rarely speak to each other, and they are too tired for merriment. They are so beaten down that they don't even feel hunger pains (even though they are starving). The narrator says, "They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside." Little Antanas is sick constantly with contagious diseases like measles and whooping-cough that sweep through Packingtown. Jurgis has starting secretly drinking with his co-workers because alcohol makes him feel alive, if even for a moment. Ona is especially struggling. She is pregnant again and prone to emotional outbursts where she shakes and cries. Too exhausted to help her, Jurgis simply stares at her "as helpless as a wounded animal."

Analysis

The disturbing meat-packing practices listed in Chapter 14 are thought to be the primary reason that the government passed food safety regulations laws at the time of the novel's publication. Outraged by Sinclair's descriptions, readers demanded better meat-inspection and safety standards, and the government complied.

The family continues to unravel. Now, it is no longer an issue of merely losing faith in the American Dream, the family is beginning to lose faith in each other and their ability to survive. Jurgis, who had always used his family as his motivation, has changed so drastically that he gets drunk, something he had carefully avoided. Ona, who has always been fragile, is near hysteria. Jurgis, who had promised to wrap Ona in his strong arms and always protect her, can no longer even muster the energy to comfort her when she cries. The narrator foreshadows an end to misery, however, when he says "Yet the soul of Ona was not dead—the souls of none of them were dead, but only sleeping." In the context of Chapter 14, their souls' awakening is a painful experience; later, however, Jurgis's soul will be stirred by the message of socialism.

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