The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 26 | Summary

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Summary

For his work in the vote rigging scandal, Jurgis saves $300. He keeps his job at the hog-killing factory, however, out of habit. From this he earns roughly $12 a week, which allows him to spend freely on entertainment without ever touching his savings. He has become accustomed to a new way of living, with fancy clothes, taxis downtown for shows, liquor, and prostitutes. While Jurgis is living the high life, however, the rest of the workers are becoming agitated. Wages continue to decrease despite the massive profits packers are making. The union workers decide to strike for better working conditions and higher pay. Although he initially plans to strike alongside his fellow workers, Jurgis exploits the opportunity by demanding a higher wage to work as a foreman for the "scabs" to take the jobs union workers have abandoned. He struggles to organize the new crop of disinterested and uneducated workers, and eventually he resigns himself to taking whatever advantage he can of the disorganization.

One afternoon Jurgis happens to see Phil Connor walking down the street. Although he hasn't thought about his past life or family in many months, he is overcome with rage and attacks the man again. He assumes that he will be able to bribe his way out of prosecution, as he has done many times before, and is shocked to learn that Connor is actually one of Scully's right-hand men. One of Jurgis's old partners, "Bush" Harper, agrees to help secure Jurgis a lower bond of $300, which Jurgis gratefully gives. He doesn't realize how the bail system works, and he believes Harper when he tells Jurgis he should skip out on his bail. This ruse enables Harper to pocket Jurgis's savings. Released from jail with only $1 to his name, Jurgis is force to move downtown and live as a beggar again.

Analysis

Jurgis is hardly recognizable from the character he was at the novel's opening. He is streetwise, cruel, and selfish. He spends his money lavishly on himself, not thinking about his future or those less fortunate than him. When he learns that Elzbieta and the family have moved downtown, "he gave no further thought to them." Whereas he had originally contemplated striking alongside his fellow worker, as soon as he learns there is extra money to be made, he signs up as a scab after Scully tells him, "what you can get out of it will belong to you. Do you see?" Through his life's experiences and criminal exploits, he has learned that the only way to get ahead is to put himself first. Once he is a supervisor, Jurgis becomes everything he despised at the beginning of the novel. Ironically, he pushes for kickbacks and treats the workers cruelly. This mindset sets the stage for his conversion to socialism at the end of the novel. For all his "progression," however, Jurgis continues to make the same mistakes with his money and trust—he naïvely believes his criminal connections will help him when he is arrested, and he is completely taken in by "Bush" Harper's bail swindle.

While he is working as a foreman during the strike, the majority of the scab workers are "Negroes" and "the lowest foreigners." Modern scholars often critique this chapter for its racist portrayals, particularly of African Americans, who are described as lazy, dishonest, and violent. Whereas all the workers in the novel have been compared to "dumb animals," the difference is that European workers became "dumb" after sacrificing everything to their exploitation whereas African American workers are portrayed as "dumb" simply because of their race.

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