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The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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Chapter 5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 5 of Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle.

The Jungle | Chapter 5 | Summary



The family spends every waking moment planning its move into the new house. They have only three days from when they sign their paperwork to move out of their lodging so they don't have to pay another week's rent. They realize that they have no furniture or home goods, so they must spend what little money they have left over furnishing the house. They decide to take advantage of a rent-to-own offer they see advertised. Although they have very little, the family is brimming over with happiness.

Work is going well for Jurgis, who enjoys the high-paced environment that keeps him on his toes, pressuring him to move faster and faster if he wants to keep up with production. He is exhausted when he returns home each night, but he feels useful. He is somewhat dismayed that his co-workers seem to hate their jobs. He also refuses to join the union when they request his membership.

Dede Antanas is finally offered a job, but he must pay a finders-fee of 30% of his wages to the man who offered him the work. This type of "graft" is common in Packingtown, he learns, and he eagerly accepts the offer, hoping to be of use to his family. After only two days at his new job cleaning out traps, Dede Antanas has become bitter and depressed, hating his work. Jurgis also feels a bit disillusioned when he is asked to stay late at work disposing of injured cows left behind on the transport train.


Although the family remains optimistic, slight cracks are beginning to surface in their American Dream. It doesn't take long before Dede Antanas's excitement about being useful gives way to depression as he realizes that his future is literally covered in stinking garbage. Marija learns that she only secured her job at the tin-painting factory due to another worker's injury, and likewise Jurgis receives new orders after a co-worker is injured. For the moment, the family is benefiting from a system that weeds out the weak—if the injured had the option of returning to work, neither Maria nor Jurgis would have a job. They don't yet realize they are just as replaceable as the workers before them. Clear parallels are drawn between the injured cows Jurgis dispatches at the end of the chapter and the injured workers for whom the capitalist "machine" has no use. The quick processing of the "downer" cows is the beginning of a shift for Jurgis, as he sees the inspectors work with the supervisors to process meat that isn't fit for human consumption.

At work, Jurgis's factory uses a "speeding up" method that ensures workers are always working to their maximum ability. Plenty of workers fail to keep up with the rigorous pace and are quickly replaced. As a result, there is high turnover. The union hopes to outlaw "speeding up" so workers can keep their jobs, but Jurgis has no interest in helping "lazy" workers: "he could do the work himself," and so the other workers should keep up "if they were good for anything." Jurgis doesn't see the protections joining a union could offer him. He distrusts the union's membership dues, not realizing that they, perhaps more than the house or its furnishings, are an investment in the security of his future.

Finally, this chapter introduces the "graft." A man finds Dede Antanas a job in exchange for 30% of his wages. Should that man's boss find out about the arrangement, he would likely blackmail the first man for a percentage of his wages. The same applies to the boss's boss and the boss's boss's boss. This highlights the layers of corruption and greed Sinclair found so repulsive in capitalism—a system founded by greed that exploits the most vulnerable.

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