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The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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Chapter 20

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 20 of Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle.

The Jungle | Chapter 20 | Summary



After a few days drinking his sorrows away, Jurgis returns home, mournful that he has spent his family's money while the children were starving. He swears not to drink again and to find a job to help support them. He joins the masses searching for jobs in Packingtown and is further devastated to learn that he has been blacklisted. Since attacking Connor, his name circulated the factories and now no one will hire him. As soon as he secures a lead on a job, he is turned away when the boss realizes who he is. Trying his luck outside of Packingtown, he finds a job at Harvester Trust manufacturing farm equipment. Here, workers are paid "piece-work" for each item they complete rather than an hourly wage. Jurgis manages to make nearly $2 a day, which he uses to pay rent and buy food for his family, whom he rarely sees now that he is living in boarding houses downtown. Just when Jurgis thinks he is getting his life back on track, the factory closes.


When Jurgis was in jail, his family relied on begging to survive. This practice continues when Jurgis is unable to find work, and when his meager earnings are instantly gobbled up by basic necessities like food. Now an alcoholic, Jurgis further fails his family by drinking away household money. Rightfully, Jurgis feels like a failure. He cannot even afford to pay for Ona's funeral leaving the ever resourceful Elzbieta to scrounge a few pennies from neighbors. Teta Elzbieta's character continues to represent the importance of family despite life's devastation. Even though they are starving, Teta Elzbieta would rather pay for the funeral than food because such traditions are what keep her, and her family, human.

Jurgis' unjust punishment continues when Connor, who received no punishment for his involvement in Ona's demise, continues to harass Jurgis by having him blacklisted. First he destroyed Ona and now he will destroy the rest of the family. The significance of the blacklist is twofold: it highlights the corruption of capitalism while explaining its stronghold. Faced with being blacklisted as punishment for acting out, employees would rather work through horrific conditions, ignoring mistreatment.

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