The Jungle Study Guide

The Jungle By Upton Sinclair

The Jungle explores the downsides of American capitalism as viewed from the eyes of a Lithuanian family that moved to Chicago to chase their dreams. Jurgis Rudkos, his bride Ona, and their extended family just spent more than a years' income on their wedding feast, and some of them are nervous about it.

They begin their decline by spending their family fortune on a down payment for a home they cannot hope to afford. Believing they can live off of Jurgis' income alone, they rapidly learn that there are no worker's rights in the Chicago Stockyards at the turn of the century. One by one, they all -- even the young children and sickly elders -- are forced to get jobs and contribute to the meager family income.

At the Stockyards, bribery is a normal part of everyday life, and blacklisting is common. The amount of money Jurgis has to pay in order to work is obscene. Furthermore, a series of unfortunate events - accidents at work, deaths in the family, and more - leave the family further in debt and less able to fend for itself.

After Ona dies giving birth and then his son drowns in a mud puddle, Jurgis finally snaps and flees Chicago. At first, he feels better, but soon realizes that even as a wandering laborer, there is not enough work. He returns to Chicago, and works outside the Stockyards, but lacks direction and purpose - in many ways, he is too moral to do what is required of a destitute person to survive.

Finally, Jurgis stumbles upon a socialist orator giving a speech, and finds hope in his words. He gains employment with a fellow socialist, resumes supporting what's left of his family, and eventually catches the eye of a sympathetic young woman.

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