The Jungle

“There were weeks at a time when Jurgis went home after such a day as this with not more than two hours’ work to his credit–which meant about thirty- five cents. There were many days when the total was less than half an hour, and others when there was none at all. The general average was six hours a day, which meant for Jurgis about six dollars a week; and this six hours of work would be done after standing on the killing bed till one o’clock, or perhaps even three or four o’clock, in the afternoon. Like as not there would come a rush of cattle at the very end of the day, which the men would have to dispose of before they went home, often working by electric light till nine or ten, or even twelve or one o’clock, and without a single instant for a bite of supper. The men were at the mercy of the cattle. Perhaps the buyers would be holding off for better prices–if they could scare the shippers into thinking that they meant to buy nothing that day, they could get their own terms. For some reason the cost of fodder for cattle in the yards was much above the market price–and you were not allowed to bring your own fodder! Then, too, a number of cars were apt to arrive late in the day, now that the roads were blocked with snow, and the packers would buy their cattle that night, to get them cheaper, and then would come into play their ironclad rule, that all cattle must be killed the same day they were bought. There was no use kicking about this–there had been one delegation after another to see the packers about it, only to be told that it was the rule, and that there was not the slightest chance of its ever being altered. And so on Christmas Eve Jurgis worked till nearly one o’clock in the morning, and on Christmas Day he was on the killing bed at seven o’clock.” – Chapter 8, The Jungle

The above quote comes from Chapter 8 of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The story revolves around the hardships that Jurgis Rudkus faces in trying to support his entire family. Here, Sinclair discusses Rudkus’ plight at a cattle/beef factory, noting that “the men were at the mercy of the cattle.” Rudkus is forced to work long hours and has little control over how much he can earn at the factory. His earnings, in effect, are completely dependent on the market prices of the cattle. Despite the fact that his family has found work in order to support everyone as well, their living conditions never improve. In fact, they are conned into buying a dilapidated home and soon find themselves trying to survive both financially and physically. The quote above ultimately epitomizes the family’s hopeless endeavor. Though work is found, the working conditions are horrible. In a sense, Sinclair’s description of Rudkus’ working conditions is a direct criticism of the industrial era in America. In spite of the advancements in technology, life for the middle class, it seems, only deteriorates more and more. Rudkus’ belief that he can pursue the “American Dream” is shattered when he decides to find work in Packingtown – one of the most corrupt areas of Chicago. What is incredibly disturbing is the atrocious and savage description of Rudkus’ constant attempts to climb up the social ladder (he finds himself only to be thrown back into the industrial pits of hell). It appears that his determination to do well in America can only get him so far – There are many factors and variables that are out of his control. The mere fact that he has to work long hours to earn a couple cents is a testament of his struggle to break free of the poverty that has been plaguing his family for so long.

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3 Responses to “The Jungle”

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