The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 25 | Summary

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Summary

Jurgis takes the $100 into a saloon and asks for change. The bartender agrees to change the large bill if Jurgis buys a drink, which he does. The beer costs a nickel, and the bartender gives Jurgis change for only $1. Enraged, Jurgis demands his $99, which the bartender refuses to give him. Jurgis attacks the man and is badly beaten. The police arrest him. At his trial the judge pays no mind to Jurgis's argument that the bartender was stealing from him, refusing to believe that a beggar like Jurgis would ever have so much money. He is sentenced to ten days in jail plus fees.

While in jail Jurgis is reunited with Jack Duane and the two quickly rekindle their friendship. Upon release, Jurgis finds Duane and joins his criminal enterprise. First, he starts off mugging people and pawning their belongings, splitting the profits with Duane and buying off police officers. Over time he becomes a full-time criminal plugged into an ever-expanding network. Before long he's working with the Democratic Party to rig elections. This time the Democratic Party is rigging for a Republican win, and they need a man to join the stockyard union to sway voters. Jurgis takes a job and successfully encourages most men to vote Republican at the next election, and the intended candidate wins by a landslide.

Analysis

Jurgis has finally realized that the only way to succeed in a corrupt system is to become part of the corruption. He works first as a petty criminal dealing with thievery and muggings, but he struggles with one-on-one crime. After mugging his first innocent victim, Jurgis laments, "he never did us any harm" to which Duane responds, "He was doing to somebody as hard as he could, you can be sure of that." This exchange highlights the cruel reality of a society where everyone is out to save themselves. This system is illustrated by the journey of the $100 bill. It is given to Freddy Jones by his father, the meatpacking baron, who earned it on the backs of his exploited workers. Jurgis effectively steals it from Freddy; then the bartender steals it from Jurgis. The bartender knows no one would believe a man like Jurgis would have $100, and he also has corrupt judges and police officers on his side because he buys them off.

As Jurgis learns his way around the criminal world, he too begins buying off judges and officers to ensure he never pays for his crimes. In this way he becomes part of the system that had broken him down, reclaiming it as his own. In some ways Jurgis has given up everything for this new life—including his identity, since he has had to use an assumed name—but in other ways, he is the same: he is hard-working and dedicated, even within his life of crime.

When Jurgis returns to the hog-killing beds as a union "plant," his life has come full-circle and the reader can see how his character and situation have changed in only a few short years. Where he was once the unsuspecting worker eager to vote, he is now helping organize the fraud, manipulating the workers for his financial gain. Indeed, by the end of the election season, Jurgis has pocketed hundreds of dollars from the campaign. In a case of situational irony, the workers truly believe they are overthrowing a corrupt Democratic leader (Mike Scully) by voting Republican, not realizing that the corruption is far deeper than they could have imagined, and Scully is behind the Republican win.

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