The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Because they are so in love, Jurgis and Ona are eager to get married even though they don't have any money for the reception. When they suggest a simple ceremony with no party afterward, the old generation—like Teta Elzbieta—are mortified. They believe the reception money will be returned to them in gifts from the guests, but it's a matter of scrounging up the $200 they estimate the party will cost.

Around the same time, the family learns more about their house. A neighbor, whom they call Grandmother Majauszkiene, informs them that their house is about 15 years old—not new as it had been advertised. It had been built by the same dishonest company that built all the houses on their block, using the flimsiest, cheapest material possible. Jurgis and his family were the fifth to try to own it, but Grandmother Majauszkiene expects they will fail too. When Jurgis protests that they make more than enough money to cover the mortgage, Grandmother Majauszkiene informs them that they also have to pay interest on their loan, a fact that sickens Jurgis. He rushes to read over the paperwork and learns that Grandmother Majauszkiene is right: next month they will have to pay their $12 rent plus $7 interest on their loan. As usual, Jurgis simply states, "I will work harder." He soon realizes, however, that Ona must also go to work. Because there are no jobs available, Ona must bribe a forewoman $10 for a position sewing covers on hams. Stanislovas, Teta Elzbieta's oldest son, must also leave school and find a job using doctored paperwork that misrepresents his age. He finds work filling cans with lard.

Analysis

Grandmother Majauszkiene is the first socialist Jurgis meets, although her political affiliations are only mentioned subtly. Sinclair was an ardent socialist and the novel becomes increasingly political as it progresses (socialism is presented as the cure-all solution for the evils of capitalism). Grandmother Majauszkiene has lived on the block for fifteen years and has seen it change over time. She says she "fooled" the building company by buying the property outright. When Jurgis doesn't understand, she explains that it cost the company $500 to build each house. They sold them for $1500. The company, she explains, "existed to make money by swindling poor people." Residents could be kicked out for falling behind on their payments, without receiving any compensation for the equity they had already put into the house. Each family that attempted to buy the house (inevitably falling behind due to unexpected interest payments) added more and more profit to the builders' pockets. As long as capitalism prevails in America, Sinclair argues, hardworking families like Jurgis's will never catch a break.

When he learns about the interest payments, Jurgis must begin making sacrifices. He realizes that even though he wants to, he cannot support the family on his own. The shock and horror that roils through the family is emphasized by Sinclair as a way to contrast the decent morality inherent in the "old ways," as opposed to Grandmother Majauszkiene's jaded view of life. Both Ona and Stanislovas must find work. Through this development, Sinclair advances an argument that capitalism destroys the family. Both women and children, instead of being at home or in school, are forced into the workplace in order to survive. In case that point is missed, the narrator preaches about Stanislovas, "hour after hour, day after day, year after year, it was fated" that the poor boy would stand "making never a motion and thinking never a thought." Stanislovas, the narrator continues, "would never know what the sun looked like" in exchange for a measly $3.00 a week. Sinclair points out that this fate is not rare for children—Stanislovas was like millions of other poor children in America forced into the workplace to support their families. Sinclair's primary goal in writing this novel was to highlight the plight of America's working poor, and he uses dramatic and emotional language like this to affect readers.

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