Throughout the book The Jungle, there were many unifying elements. One of Sinclair’s many purposes in writing this novel is to vividly show the consequences of capitalism. Sinclair does so by comparing the American dream with the reality of a family’s dependence on working wages. The group of Lithuanian immigrants in this novel enter America in hopes that they will receive high wages and a happy life; only to find out that they’re in a place where it’s difficult for one to materially succeed. The Jungle paints a picture in which capitalism is the reason this family struggles, but that’s just part of it, not only is this family struggling but millions of other people are as well.
Sinclair’s thesis is proved by using Jurgis and Teta Elzbieta along with their family to show the struggle that the working class has as immigrants under capitalism. Throughout the novel, Sinclair uses specific examples that vividly allows us to see how bad capitalism is in the life of an immigrant family. Jurgis is the man of the family who works extremely hard and gets paid based on how much he produces. Unfortunately, Jurgis ends up spraining his ankle at work which led to him losing income and his job.
On page 142, Jurgis explains how unfair the working conditions are, “The irregular hours and the cruel speeding up, the lowering of wages, the raising of prices! The mercilessness of nature about them, of heat and cold, and rain and the snow; The mercilessness of the city, of the country in which they lived, of its laws and customs, that they did not understand” (Sinclair). Jurgis had so many emotions that capitalism was the blame for. Another major scenario in this novel that Sinclair uses to build his case against capitalism is when Jurgis and his family found the “new house”. In the process of purchasing the home, they made calculations and decided to pool their money, so they wouldn’t have to pay rent. Jurgis and his family purchased the house and since they couldn’t read the contract their trust in the agent was enormous. They ended up realizing the house was nowhere near close to being new and in between the cost of the mortgage, there were many hidden costs that would strain their budget even further. Everything this family had to offer went towards that house only to find out they couldn’t keep up with the expenses.
The real estate company purposely wanted them to lose the home, so they could find another immigrant family and “trap” them like they did to Jurgis’s family. Sinclair used Jurgis and his family to show how they wanted to own their own house, which is part of the American dream, but once again capitalism is to blame. Jurgis and his family once again were victims towards people who just wanted money and had no care for them. One thing I thought helped Sinclair prove his point throughout the novel was when he included Jurgis’s feelings. For example, “When he came home that night he was in a very somber mood, having begun to see at last how those might be right who laughed at him for his faith in America” (Sinclair, page 53). Sinclair does an amazing job showing how capitalism has a terrible effect on everyone and how they’re turned into machines to be used for profit. Sinclair grew up in a family that was financially unstable, but his extended family was in good hands. The variation between classes is what led Sinclair to be a passionate activist who was involved in political campaigns.
This novel gave me an understanding of the labor role in the early industrial society and it painted a picture of how labor and the political power of business progressed in American society. Sinclair did an outstanding job on making the city of Chicago so vivid and proving his thesis. The title of this novel was very creative when I first started reading this novel I didn’t know how the title could relate to it, but now that I’ve seen how the higher classes feed on the immigrants and turn them into animals, it makes sense.
Socialism was Sinclair’s cure for all the problems that capitalism created. I believe Sinclair was being biased in this novel because he was trying to give an idea as to how socialism would rebuild the mistreated working class and that’s why he blamed everything on capitalism. Sinclair could have also made the conditions of immigrant families worse than they were to expand on how terrible capitalism is. Although The Jungle was a decent book, I felt like I was never able to feel sympathy for the individual characters, but only for the multitudes of people struggling in the 1900’s. The ending of the book was frustrating because all of a sudden, the last few chapters became a political piece, and I felt as if the characters didn’t matter towards the end. As far as recommending this book, I would recommend it to a history lover. Coming from a multiracial international family, and hearing about all the immigrant issues we’re having in the United States right now, reading this book was very valuable.
This novel taught me how far we’ve come as a country since the early 1900’s in terms of working conditions and how we treat workers. Many people forget how bad and difficult times were and still are for immigrants and people in poverty. The Jungle is a major eye opener as to how quick we are to forget about those kinds of struggles, which after all, are reoccurring life issues.