The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | Quotes


We will pay them all somehow. I will work harder.

Jurgis, Chapter 1

After the wedding, when Jurgis realizes his family is terribly in debt for the reception, he believes he can simply work harder to turn around the family's fate. He still clings to the American Dream, not realizing that capitalism will crush his spirit and that very dream.


Do you want me to believe that with these arms ... people will ever let me starve?

Jurgis, Chapter 2

When Jurgis first arrives in America he thinks all the poor men begging on the streets are lazy good-for-nothings. He is naïve and optimistic, not realizing that in a few short years, he will be just as destitute, after giving everything—including his strength and health—to the capitalist machine.


They use everything about the hog except the squeal.

Jokubas Szedvilas, Chapter 3

When Jokubas gives the new family a tour of the meatpacking factory, he alludes to the industriousness of the market—how the packers squeeze as much money as possible out of each hog. By the end of the novel, it's clear that they also squeeze as much as they can from their workers before discarding them.


It would have seemed ungrateful to find any fault, [so] they ... shut their eyes [to] defects.

Narrator, Chapter 4

The family ignores defects in the house so as not to seem ungrateful to the agent or for the opportunity of owning a home. This statement also highlights their naïvety and ignorance to corruption in America.


You are like all the rest. They trick you and eat you alive.

Grandmother Majauszkiene, Chapter 6

Grandmother Majauszkiene is the first to alert Jurgis to the corruption and greed in America; she explains that immigrants' ignorance and naïvety makes them prey to the forces of exploitation. Despite her words, Jurgis and his family carry on, choosing not to believe her warning.


Go slow; one could not count upon such good fortune forever.

Narrator, Chapter 8

According the narrator, Marija's friends give her these words of warning when she becomes overconfident about for her speedy work at the paint factory plant, which earns her a tidy sum. The family spends the money freely, not realizing that the work will slow after the holidays and they will struggle to eat. Throughout the novel, Jurgis fails to learn this lesson and repeatedly spends rather than saves.


When people did their best, ought they not to be able to keep alive?

Narrator, Chapter 10

After only a few months in America, the family feels overwhelmed by financial struggles. No matter how hard they work, they cannot get ahead, due to rife corruption and greed in the capitalist system. This statement is one example of the explicit pro-socialist messages Sinclair sends in the novel.


Human creatures might be hunted down and destroyed by the wild-beast powers of nature.

Narrator, Chapter 11

This is the first comparison of capitalist society to a jungle. In "the jungle" of capitalism, men are reduced to animals, either predator or prey, and only the strong survive. In this instance the predator is not other men but hunger and cold. The idea that his family could fall prey to these forces in the midst of such a wealthy city seems to deepen Jurgis's anguish.


They were beaten; they had lost the game; they were swept aside.

Narrator, Chapter 14

The family begins to realize that they are victims to the cruel evils of capitalism—they have given everything for someone else's gain. Once they are too weak to carry on, they are disposed of. This is social Darwinism, or the belief that in economics—as well as in nature—only the strong survive.


He lived like a dumb beast of burden, knowing only the moment in which he lived.

Narrator, Chapter 15

The narrator says this about Jurgis, who, after years of working the meatpacking plant has been reduced to an animal, a beast of burden, no different from the very hogs he slaughters.


There was no deliverance, there was no power, even in heaven that could undo the past.

Narrator, Chapter 16

In jail Jurgis wants to cry out to heaven for relief, but in the world of the novel, religion cannot save the exploited workingman. The only solution is socialism.


Enemies ... had been lurking for them, crouching upon their trail and thirsting for their blood!

Narrator, Chapter 18

After his release from jail, Jurgis loses everything—his job, his home, and his wife. He finally realizes the corrupt system has been rigged against him the entire time. He was naïve and an easy target for the capitalistic predators.


From now on he was fighting ... the man who hit him would get [all] he gave.

Narrator, Chapter 22

After Antanas's death Jurgis strikes out on his own, living selfishly, serving only himself, and bullying anyone who might take advantage of him. This quotation highlights how much his character has changed since arriving in America.


Ona could have taken care of us all in the beginning.

Marija, Chapter 27

After becoming a prostitute herself, Marija realizes that there is no way to get ahead in a capitalistic society while maintaining one's morals. Her ideals have changed so drastically that she now chastises Jurgis for preventing Ona from remaining a prostitute.


Chicago will be ours!

Jurgis, Chapter 31

At the end of the novel, Jurgis and the rest of the socialists optimistically chant that with hard work and determination, Chicago will be theirs. It is a new American Dream, which echoes the optimistic naïvety of Jurgis's promise to "work harder" at the beginning of the novel.

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