The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 17 | Summary

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Summary

The next morning, Jurgis meets his cellmate, a "cracksman" named Jack Duane. Jurgis is immediately enamored with Duane because he is educated and dapper. The two men speak easily, passing their time swapping stories. Duane is equally fascinated by Jurgis, whom he views as a ridiculously ignorant bumpkin. Before the two are separated during Jurgis's trial, Duane encourages Jurgis to look him up when he gets out.

Jurgis's trial is a travesty. At first they question him in English but then call in a translator. The judge is unimpressed with Jurgis's story and chooses (unsurprisingly) to believe Connor's version of events, in which Jurgis attacked him after Ona was let go from her position in the factory. Jurgis is sentenced to one-month of hard labor. Jurgis is dumbfounded. A month without wages could mean death for his family. A few days later, Stanislovas visits the prison, obviously starving, and asks if Jurgis has any connections that might help support them. They have been kicked out of their house, nearly everyone has lost their jobs, and they are begging on the streets for food. Jurgis gives the boy the last few cents he has in his pocket.

Analysis

Away from the constant drudgery of his work, Jurgis begins to feel human again, even striking up an unlikely friendship with his cell mate. Although he avoids the rest of the "bitter" inmates, Jack Duane is different. Like Jurgis, jail provides a respite for him, although Duane is taking a respite from "women and wine and the excitement of his vocation" as a conman. Interestingly, Chapter 17 is one of the only chapters in the novel that includes dialogue. The reader hears Jurgis's words from his own mouth, not as summarized by the narrator. Jurgis has been broken down completely and is now forming a new identity.

Like everything else in society, the unjust legal system favors the wealthy and provides yet another hurdle for immigrants to overcome. The unfair, institutionalized systems devastate the family both in and out of jail as the family crumbles under Jurgis' absence. The act of giving Stanislovas his last coins at the end of Chapter 17 symbolizes the fact that Jurgis has given everything for his family. He is alone in the world with absolutely nothing show for his hard work. Before the trial Jurgis maintained a blind faith in the American justice system, which the verdict rocks. Before life in prison, Jurgis was an honest, hardworking man. After the verdict Jurgis begins to realize he may not be able to beat a rigged system.

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