The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

Ona's fits of hysteria continue, and Jurgis begins to wonder what is causing them. When he looks at her, he no longer sees a woman but a "hunted animal." Still, Jurgis is too exhausted to ask any questions or offer any comfort. Winter falls again and during the first snowstorm, Ona fails to return home in the evening. In the morning, Jurgis goes looking and spots her climbing off a streetcar outside the canning factory. She says that the storm had been so strong she was unable to get home and had to sleep with a friend. Although frustrated, Jurgis doesn't ask any more questions and rushes off to work. A few weeks later, it happens again. This time, he looks for her at her friend's house and doesn't find her there; then he sees her climbing off the streetcar, and he secretly follows her home. Teta Elzbieta lies and says that Ona has been back for a few hours and is now asleep, but Jurgis knows she is lying. He confronts Ona and forces her to tell him the truth. Collapsed on the floor and through terrible sobs, Ona admits that her boss, Connor, had tried to seduce her. When she refused his advances, Connor raped her. Now, he forces her to have sex with him at the brothel downtown. Enraged, Jurgis storms from the house, finds Connor at the plant, and beats him senseless. It takes half a dozen policemen to pull Jurgis off, and when they do, he sinks his teeth into Connor's cheek, tearing away a huge chunk of flesh.

Analysis

This chapter is a turning point for Jurgis's character. He is no longer a man—he is an animal, surviving off instinct and living in the moment. At the beginning of the chapter he is compared to a "dumb beast of burden," giving no thought to the past or to the future, but by the end of the chapter he is described like a fierce predator, violently attacking and wounding his enemy. Jurgis is no longer motivated to protect his family or to hope for a better future.

The animal symbolism continues in the description of Ona as a "hunted animal." While Jurgis is compared first to a beast of burden then to a predator, Ona is clearly prey, the target of powerful men, like Connor, who exploit her on every level. Ona is a pregnant, married woman, yet even this doesn't save her from sexual exploitation when her boss rapes her and forces her into prostitution. Perhaps she remembers Marija being fired for fighting back about stolen wages, but it's clear that Ona doesn't fight back because she knows she is powerless. When she finally tells Jurgis the truth she says, "it was such a little thing—to ruin us all." Her words have two meanings. First, it would have taken little effort for Connor to ruin their family—he would simply have to use his connections to blacklist them from work. Second, Connor's abuse is a "little thing" for her to endure to keep the family afloat, yet she predicts (correctly) that Jurgis will feel bound to retaliate against Connor and orchestrate the family's ruin.

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