Course Hero Logo

The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Jungle Study Guide." Course Hero. 25 Aug. 2016. Web. 30 May 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, August 25). The Jungle Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 30, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "The Jungle Study Guide." August 25, 2016. Accessed May 30, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Jungle Study Guide," August 25, 2016, accessed May 30, 2023,

The Jungle | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


What does Jonas's character in The Jungle suggest about the American Dream?

Jonas is the first character to be swept into the fantasy of the American Dream. As citizens of the United States, Jonas believes his family will have an equal opportunity to succeed, building their own fortune through hard work. He presents the idea to his family, citing the apparent success of Jokubas Szedvilas as proof of the dream's attainability. Upon arriving in America and learning that the American Dream is an impossible illusion, Jonas abandons his family, an act that foreshadows Jurgis's abandonment later in the novel. Jonas's disappearance reinforces the novel's message that America is not a land of equal opportunity. Immigrants face impossible hurdles that leave the American Dream just out of their grasp.

What role does the government play in The Jungle?

Sinclair depicts the government as incompetent and corrupt at every level. Federal government inspectors are hired at every packing facility to ensure that the meat being sold to the public is fit for consumption. In reality, the government inspectors are symbols of a corrupt, broken system. The inspector in Chapter 3, for example, is easily distracted from his duty, or intentionally turning a blind eye, potentially allowing infected meat to be butchered and packaged. As Jurgis is told when he joins the union, there is one main difference between the governments of the United States and Russia (which neighbors Lithuania), and it has nothing to do with freedom or equality: [H]e learned that America differed from Russia in that its government existed under the form of a democracy. The officials who ruled it, and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes. All government officials and politicians in the novel are corrupt, profiting off crime and exploitation. Sinclair portrays a historically realistic situation as a way of supporting a new political order: socialism. Yes, Sinclair has an agenda, but the fact remains that a monopoly existed, and that no one was enforcing any of the laws.

How does Aniele Jukniene's boarding house come to represent capitalism in The Jungle?

Aniele's boardinghouse could be seen as a microcosm of the capitalist system, where the exploited can only survive by becoming exploiters. Having managed to buy her own property—a dingy house, filled with cockroaches and dirty linens, she supports herself by taking advantage of the desperation of new arrivals to Packingtown and charging rent to sleep in overcrowded, filthy rooms. In this way Aniele subverts the expectations of the American Dream: she achieves the dream by making enough money to buy a house and start a business, but her success is reliant on the exploitation of others, keeping them from achieving the dream themselves. Aniele supplements her income by raising chickens, which she feeds with food that children find in the dump. Aniele Jukniene does what she must to survive; she can't afford to worry about hygiene or the fairness of her rates, much like the filthy, exploitative meat packing factories. Unlike these large businesses, however, Aniele is not unkind. When Jurgis needs money for a midwife, she is the first to contribute.

Why does the narrator call all the machines used in the manufacturing process in The Jungle "wonderful"?

Throughout the novel, the narrator refers to "wonderful machines." The tone, however, is not marveling. Calling the machines "wonderful" is an example of verbal irony—when a speaker says one thing but means another. The lard machine young Stanislovas tends for 14-hours-a-day instead of attending school is not "wonderful," nor is the machine that can behead a thousand cows an hour. These machines are symptomatic of capitalism's evil desire to make as much money in as short a time as possible. While these machines may be "wonderfully" efficient, they have a dehumanizing effect on their operators as they become like machines themselves.

How is Jurgis's statement, "I'm glad I'm not a hog" in Chapter 3 of The Jungle an example of dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience understands the full significance of a character's words (or actions) better than the character himself. As Jurgis first watches the river of hogs being slaughtered and learns how the packers extract every ounce of value possible from the hogs, he proclaims, "I'm glad I'm not a hog." His statement is ironic because to the packing company, he is as expendable as a hog. The packers don't view their workers as humans, and they extract every bit of manpower from them before disposing of them after they are too weak or injured to continue. Their attitude toward their workers is as callous and as calculated as their slaughter of thousands of animals each day.

How might Jokubas Szedvilas's experience have served as a warning to the family in The Jungle?

The family's response to Jokubas Szedvilas's apparent success in America is a testament to their blind faith in the American Dream. Without question or research, the family travels to a foreign country with the blind assurance that they too will make their fortune. When they arrive, however, they learn that Szedvilas is actually quite poor, barely scraping by. He still lives in the squalor of Packingtown. He has had to mortgage his store because he is behind on his rent. Still, the family fails to heed his example. They buy a house (even though Szedvilas still rents) turning a blind eye to the house's many faults and the warning signs of an exploitative mortgage. The family similarly ignores Szedvilas's decision to put his children in the workforce rather than school, choosing instead to enroll their children in the local public school. Rather than opening their eyes to their new reality in Packingtown, the family blindly supports the very systems that exploit them.

What is "the graft" in The Jungle, and how does it define relationships?

Graft refers to gain (monetary or otherwise) through corruption. People in charge exploit those below them by wielding power in exchange for benefits. People extract money or gifts in exchange for small favors, like taking a day off work, and large requests, like getting a job. Tamoszius Kuszleika first explains the graft to Jurgis after his father Antanas gets his job by giving a third of his income to a go-between: They were common enough, he said, such cases of petty graft. It was simply some boss who proposed to add a little to his income. After Jurgis had been there awhile he would know that the plants were simply honeycombed with rottenness of that sort—the bosses grafted off the men, and they grafted off each other; and someday the superintendent would find out about the boss, and then he would graft off the boss. In trying to explain why graft exists, Tamoszius implies that corruption starts at the top, with the owner, "a man who was trying to make as much money out of it as he could, and did not care in the least how he did it." However, graft extends well beyond the meatpacking plant. In fact it affects all aspects of life in the city, especially government services and politics. Through his use of graft in the novel, Sinclair argues that due to capitalism's competitive nature, corruption is inherent, and socialism provides the only relief.

How is religion treated in The Jungle?

Overall, religion is treated as ineffective and even pernicious in The Jungle. In Chapter 6, for example, Teta Elzbieta insists on having a religious symbol in her home to protect the family, though the family can ill afford it. [P]oor as they were, Elzbieta had felt it advisable to invest a little of her resources in a representation of the babe of Bethlehem ... It had cost fifty cents; but Elzbieta had a feeling that money spent for such things was not to be counted too closely, it would come back in hidden ways. Sinclair's tone of understated sarcasm suggests that the symbol, and the religious belief behind it, will offer the family no relief. Similarly, when Jurgis stumbles upon a revival meeting, he finds the preacher's words maddening. He preaches about sin and redemption, yet offers no relief from the suffering of the homeless, starving members of the congregation. This suggests that even faith is a luxury of the wealthy—the poor must concentrate on simply surviving. The shortcomings of organized religion, and its sometimes costly trappings, are contrasted with the political message of socialism, which actually strives to improve the lives of its followers.

How does the house Jurgis and his family buy serve as a symbol in The Jungle?

Jurgis and his family move to America to chase the American Dream. One manifestation of the American Dream they are eager to embrace is owning their own home. To the family, owning a house is a symbol of the financial security and freedom inherent in the American Dream. The family were not the first to embrace this aspect of the dream. In Chapter 6 Grandmother Majauszkiene tells Jurgis the history of his house. First it was owned by Germans, then Irish, then Bohemians, then Poles, and now Lithuanians. Each family was told the house was new and each failed to meet the financial expectations required to own it. As Jurgis and his family soon discover, the housing contract comes with many mysterious clauses and hidden costs—and residents can evidently be evicted after missing a single payment. The difficulty of keeping up with the house payments reinforces the cycle of poverty that traps families in the squalor of Packingtown. Readers later learn that Mike Scully, the powerful and corrupt alderman who runs the city, built the house and others like it. Exploitation and abuse prevent families from succeeding no matter how hard they work. The symbolism of the house (it rests over a cesspool from the previous tenants) reinforces the theme that capitalism actually prevents immigrants from achieving the American Dream.

What is the significance of alcohol in The Jungle's Packingtown?

From the earliest chapters, Sinclair describes men purposely seeking out or simply not being able to avoid alcohol. Certainly it is a cheap and easily accessible escape from the horrors of their lives. However, many men drink because bars are the only place in Packingtown to get warm, and men are only allowed to sit in the warm bars if they are drinking. These warm bars also provide food, but again, only to drinking customers. In addition to providing food and warmth, bars are relatively clean in comparison to the filthy, blood-soaked killing floors, which are the only other places men can eat their meals during the workday. Alcohol is yet another way for businesses to exploit the basic needs of hardworking men, perpetuating their struggles within the evil capitalist structure. Bars are businesses like any other, seeking to make as much money as possible. In order to do so, they must encourage men to drink, despite the fact that alcohol offers no nutritional value, is expensive, and weakens the body and mind, rendering exploited men like Jurgis less able to achieve their American Dream. Although Jurgis abstains at first, he begins drinking to ease his physical pain after his grueling work in the fertilizer plant. He also uses it to dampen his emotional pain. As soon as Ona dies, for example, he sets out to "get drunk." Through the working class's relationship with alcohol, Sinclair suggests that it is another form of exploitation (by tavern owners, who are in cahoots with the slaughterhouse and the police) and that in a more perfect society, men would not turn to it in the first place.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Jungle? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!