The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 27 | Summary

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Summary

Once again Jurgis is homeless, begging on the streets without a chance of finding a job. He survives by saving his pennies and buying half-priced bread from bakers at the end of the day, which he rations throughout the entire next day. He is not alone in his plight as hundreds of thousands of jobless men are forced into the streets and soup kitchens in order to survive. He is finally able to secure a job, but he is devastated to lose it when he finds he is simply not strong enough to complete the work. While he is begging one evening, he meets an old acquaintance from Packingtown who tells him where he can find Marija. Nervous to be reunited with his old family, but desperate for shelter and food, Jurgis seeks her out. The address the woman has given turns out to be a gorgeous stately home, which is later revealed to be a brothel. Marija has been working as a prostitute to support the family. She makes so much money now that she chides Jurgis about his distress over Ona becoming a prostitute. Her position with Connor could have saved the family from its fate. As it is now all of Elzbieta's children are forced to work. Poor Stanislovas was eaten alive by rats after accidentally being locked into a factory overnight.

Analysis

This chapter provides a panoramic scene of the plight of the working poor, offering statistics of the hundreds of thousands of workers—men, women, and children—who have been forced onto the streets, begging for survival. Meanwhile, capitalistic businesses continue to profit from the misfortune of their workers, churning out destruction, starvation, and homelessness as byproducts of their "wonderful machines." The novel begins to take on the political tone that will become central to the novel's final section. In order to focus freely on his political agenda, Sinclair gives closure to the lives of his characters. The reader learns that everyone in Jurgis's family has fallen victim to the evils of capitalism, with Elzbieta and her children barely surviving, Marija working as a drug-addicted prostitute, and poor Stanislovas eaten by rats. The imagery is shocking and highly symbolic—rats, the vermin that infests Packingtown as a result of the filthy working conditions, have literally eaten Stanislovas alive. Marija is resigned to her fate and would welcome death. Her end is so inevitable, in fact, that she chastises Jurgis for attacking Connor. She sees now that Ona's income as a prostitute could have saved the family had he not been so naïve. By clinging to his morals (at that time), Jurgis did not succeed in creating a better life for his family; he only perpetuated their suffering.

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