The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

One of the immediate benefits of joining the union is that a man arranges for Jurgis to get his American citizenship. He is given a half-day off work (with pay!) to sign his paperwork. After he becomes a citizen, he is allowed to vote in elections. A "night watchman" always brings Jurgis to the polls, shows him which box to check, and then pays him for his time. Buying votes is just one way the Democratic Party boss Mike Scully exercises his corruption. He is behind nearly every graft in the city, a practice that has made him rich and powerful—more powerful than the mayor of Chicago. The narrator lists various scandals Scully has been involved with, and then lists the terrible medical side effects of workers in various Packingtown jobs. Jurgis goes out among the other Lithuanians to spread his new-found understanding of unions. He is surprised by how vehement he has become in such a short time.

Analysis

The matter-of-fact description of American democracy that the union men provide to Jurgis sounds like any corrupt government system. The only difference between the democratic system and any system in the old world is that the grafters have to be elected before they can make their profits, so they buy elections. Mike Scully is a nasty character who uses power and wealth to get away with horrific crimes like selling poisoned meat to unsuspecting buyers. He protects the interests of exploitative packers because they pay him to, and he uses a portion of that money, in turn, to buy votes from the exploited workers to ensure he stays in power. The system is ridiculously corrupt yet no one has the power (or money) to stop it. Meanwhile, the hardworking laborers fall victim to a series of horrific maladies, from lost fingers to blood poisoning to death. Chapter 9 contains a variety of allegations—such as selling poisoned meat—that prompted the creation of America's food and drug laws.

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