The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 19 | Summary

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Summary

Jurgis rushes down the street to the house of Madame Haupt, the Dutch midwife. He bounds up the stairs and bangs breathlessly on her door. She is an enormously fat, dirty woman cooking herself dinner after a long night's work. She demands $25 to care for Ona, but Jurgis only has the $1.25 it took him everything to scrounge up. At first the midwife simply laughs in his face and refuses, but she eventually relents and agrees to help Ona as long as Jurgis promises to pay her the full amount next month. Jurgis agrees and rushes back home with Madame Haupt waddling behind him. Ona is screaming in pain when they arrive, and the rest of the women shoo Jurgis back outside. When he returns a few hours later, he receives the terrible news that Ona is dying. Madame Haupt is nonchalant about the loss and says that she still expects Jurgis to pay the full amount. Jurgis rushes upstairs and manages to see Ona briefly before she dies. When Kotrina returns home from selling papers, Jurgis snatches her money and runs to the saloon to get drunk.

Analysis

When Ona dies Jurgis has lost nearly all he cares about. Ona had been the motivating factor behind Jurgis's work ethic and sacrifice throughout the novel and without her, he is reeling. Unsurprisingly, after all the day's losses, Jurgis wants only to escape into an alcoholic stupor.

Jurgis's exchange with Madame Haupt provides an interesting look into the ways capitalism corrupts the poor as well as the rich. Madame Haupt lives in the same decrepit neighborhood as Jurgis, yet she charges an exorbitant rate to care for Ona, knowing that it will financially cripple the family. She takes advantage of Jurgis's desperation just like the advertising agents and packing bosses do. However, unlike the bosses, there is still some decency in Madame Haupt, as she remarks, "'It is not goot to tink of anybody suffering,' she said, in a melancholy voice." She can still respond to Jurgis's situation, and she is one of the few people of Packingtown who gives Jurgis some consideration, essentially working without pay to save Ona. The people of Packingtown are so desperate to survive that many have lost their humanity. It is "survival of the fittest" in this jungle, and there is no room for emotion.

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