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The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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Chapter 23

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 23 of Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle.

The Jungle | Chapter 23 | Summary



Hoping to beat the rush of homeless men returning to the city in search of winter work, Jurgis returns to Chicago in the early fall. He searches everywhere for work, avoiding the stockyards. Eventually, under a false name, he finds work digging tunnels for telephone lines. Once again the work is brutal and dangerous. After only a few weeks, Jurgis's arm is crushed by a boulder. He spends a few weeks in the hospital before being kicked out onto the street without any support. Forced to live as a beggar, Jurgis searches for dry doorways and warm rooms wherever he can find them. One night he seeks warmth in a church revival meeting, where he reflects that the men who preach don't really understand what an impoverished audience needs. Back on the streets he finds begging is hard work, as the streets are already crowded with more competent beggars.


Upon returning to the city, Jurgis's new work seems promising. The tunnels are a new venture, and Jurgis believes the work will last at least through the terrible winter. Despite all the struggle he has been through in his life, Jurgis spends his new earnings rather lavishly on food and drink, so when he is inevitably injured on the job, he has no money in savings on which to survive.

The social Darwinist ethic exists on the streets as well as in the factories. As a beggar Jurgis is in competition with waifs whose stories are more polished than his and whose injuries are often faked for sympathy. Even though Jurgis is truly destitute and too injured to work, he struggles to survive against these career beggars.

Chance is the most powerful force in The Jungle, and Sinclair repeatedly reminds readers that nothing can save vulnerable members of society from the whimsy of chance, not even religion. During the religious revival, Jurgis is frustrated by minister's assurance that morality will save the worker while offering no real support for the poor to improve their lives. Jurgis's frustration highlights the absurdity of a "saved soul" when he must struggle every day to save his very life.

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