A group of Lithuanians move to Chicago in the early 1900’s with hopes of finding a better life. Unfortunately, they find themselves living in the meat-packing area where jobs are brutal, poorly paid, yet sought after by the throngs of unemployed.
A young couple from the group, Ona and Jurgis, are hopeful for their futures and at their wedding in Chicago, learn their first lesson in debt American style. They hold onto hope as tightly as they can, yet the realities of horrendous working conditions, illness, and poverty whittle away the remaining vestiges of the American dream.
Jurgis Rudkus is young and determined to have a better life than the one he left behind. His mantra of “I will work harder!” eventually becomes something even he no longer believes as he faces dangerous and unethical conditions working in the meat-packing industry. It isn’t until he loses everything; wife, child, home and job, that he begins to see capitalism in a whole new light.
Wife to Jurgis, Ona Lukoszaite is young and hardworking like her husband, but she too begins to see that their life is spiralling downward with no hope of recovery. Refused the day off after her wedding, she is not surprised when she is expected to return to work the day after she gives birth. She is raped by a superintendent and is too ashamed to tell her family about it, but the truth emerges and Jurgis’ reaction leads to more trouble for the family. A second pregnancy has tragic results for the young Ona.
Another tragic figure is the teenage boy, Stanislovas, stepbrother to Ona. He is miserable nearly always and has a deep fear of frostbite, which is always possible in the brutal winters. On days when he tries to avoid going out in the cold to work, Jurgis beats him to earn money so the family won’t starve. A young man with absolutely no joy or hope in his life who dies a horrendous death.
Here was Durham’s, for instance, owned by 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; and underneath him, ranged in ranks and grades like an army, were managers and superintendents and foremen, each one driving the man next below him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible. And all the men of the same rank were pitted against each other; the accounts of each were kept separately, and every man lived in terror of losing his job, if another made a better record than he. So from top to bottom the place was simply a seething cauldron of jealousies and hatreds; there was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it where a man counted for anything against a dollar. And worse than there being no decency, there was not even any honesty.
…the man who told tales and spied upon his fellows would rise; but the man who minded his own business and did his work–why, they would “speed him up” till they had worn him out, and then they would throw him into the gutter.
He found that here, precisely as in Russia, there were rich men who owned everything; and if one could not find any work, was not the hunger he began to feel the same sort of hunger?
The dilemma I’d face in meeting Mr. Sinclair would be limiting my topics. What would be the best choice for such a diverse man; a prolific writer, an undercover investigator, a politician, a man of many interests. I wonder if he’d be vegan as I considered while reading The Jungle. Perhaps I’d get his view on the current state of affairs and I’m sure he’d be distraught to see that the work may have changed, the politics have not. Hopefully he’d also share some writing skills.
My rating for The Jungle is an 8 out of 10.
Please share your own reviews or comments by using the link below.