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The Jungle | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

Devastated and furious over little Antanas's death, Jurgis turns away from his family without a word and walks away. He wanders mindlessly and when a train rushes past, he jumps on not caring where it is going. He hops trains for a while, never asking where they are going, and eventually he jumps off somewhere in the countryside. Refusing to grieve for all he has lost, Jurgis instead relishes in nature. After growing up in the Lithuanian countryside, he hasn't seen so much as a tree in nearly three years. He bathes himself in a nearby river and experiences an almost spiritual rebirth. He wanders this way for a while—buying food and lodging from local farmers—feeling freer than he has in years. He lives selfishly now, spending what little wages he makes as soon as he has them. He sleeps, eats, and works whenever it suits him. He buries his emotions, forcing himself to forget his old life, but memories sneak up on him and he cannot stop the tears. He breaks down sobbing in a farmer's house one evening after watching the wife bathe her young child.

Analysis

Now that he has lost everything, Jurgis experiences a rebirth. He washes the last of the fertilizer stink from his body and clothes in the river, and he reconnects with nature. After years of abuse and living like an animal, Jurgis begins to feel like a man again. He eats, sleeps, works, and exercises whenever he chooses. As a single man living and traveling alone, he finds it very easy to work and support himself. Sinclair draws a sharp contrast between the life of a single man following his own nature with the life of a laborer tethered like a beast of burden to the capitalist machine. The only thing lacking in Jurgis's free lifestyle is family love. The ghosts of the past haunt him, and Jurgis realizes that making money and having freedom isn't everything—he wants someone to share his happiness with. Love, not money, is what gives his life meaning. Camaraderie with other tramps he meets on the road isn't enough. He needs family.

This chapter also highlights the "survival of the fittest" cycle within the homeless community. Despite the fact that these men are essentially their own bosses—making their own rules and schedules—there is still a level of competition for survival. The men must find somewhere to eat, sleep, and drink. They travel the country following migrant jobs, and those not strong enough to make the journey, fight for jobs, find enough to eat, or die off with as little recognition as they would have received in Packingtown. With so many desperate men, there is never a shortage of other workers to do migrant labor.

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