The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

Jurgis lies in his jail cell and considers the actions that put him here. At first, he feels proud to have gotten the better of Connor in the fight. As time passes, however, he realizes that his actions have surely sealed his family's fate. There is no way they can survive without his wages and they will certainly lose everything. He wonders if anyone knows where he is, and if they will be allowed to visit him. When he hears church bells in the distance, he realizes that it is Christmas Eve. As the guards bring him his dinner, Jurgis curses his punishment, wishing he could be thrown on the streets (as his family will certainly be) and that his loved ones could be imprisoned instead.

Analysis

Life in jail is luxurious for Jurgis in comparison to the way he has been living. He is given food and drink daily (dry, crusty bread and drugged coffee—to keep the prisoners quiet). He has a bed, blankets, (both infested with bugs) and shelter from the cold. He is imprisoned but feels free and somewhat relaxed for the first time in ages. Only anxiety about his family dampens his comfort. He remembers that it is Christmas Eve and prays that both he and his family will be delivered from their certain deaths. Sinclair, who was highly critical of religion, provides no spiritual relief for his characters: "there was no justice, there was no right ... only force, it was tyranny." The narrator, jarringly, closes Chapter 16 with a poem about the futility of putting men in jail, where the atmosphere kills virtue and breeds evil. The poem (written by Oscar Wilde in 1898) clearly represents Sinclair's voice, as Sinclair has the education which makes available to him the writings of such a sophisticated author from London.

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