The Jungle, by Sinclair, is an extremely graphic novel depicting the real life of many immigrants once they come to America. This book shows the political scandal, bad working conditions, the taking advantage of cheap labor, and the treatment of immigrants of the early twentieth century.
It tells the story of Jurgis, a Lithuanian immigrants who recently arrived to Chicago. The book tells the story of his struggle to find and keep jobs, provide for his large family, and buy a house despite all the obstacles around him. Throughout his journey he is taken advantage of by someone selling houses, he works long hours, in bad working conditions to provide for his family. He is married, and has a child, who later dies. He works in the meat-packing industry, where he sees all the unsanitary and diseased meat being sold to the unknowing public. Jurgis fights alcoholism and injuries to keep his job. His wife was raped by her boss many times, but she has to deal with it because otherwise he would fire her and blacklist her family. Jurgis finally uncovers the truth and attacks her boss, Phil Conner. Jurgis gets blacklisted and thrown in jail. That is the beginning of his downfall, and he had even more trouble finding a job. Once his son and wife died, who were the only people keeping him from giving up and giving into the temptation of alcohol, he jumped on a train and lived in the country side doing farm labor for a while. When he finally came back he was thrown in jail for attacking a bartender who stole from him and decided to live a life of crime to provide for himself. He became part of the political machine and mugged people. Jurgis come face to face with Phil Conner again and cannot help but to attack him, which gets him thrown back in jail. When he got out he found his sister, Marija, working in a brothel and hopelessly addicted to morphine. Jurgis become an advocate for the socialist party and tries to get as many people as he can to support the party and tired to help Marija turn her life around. The story ends with Jurgis trying to rise class consciousness, for the bettering of working conditions and pay.
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Sinclair is advocating class consciousness and socialism to save the country. Sinclair uses Jurgis to represent what the corruption and back working conditions of the time could do to a person. He shows that the rich and prosperous really had no idea how the poor immigrants were living, and that the employers and political machines had all the power at that time. Sinclair shows that the uneducated were being used for votes in exchange for bad jobs and poor living conditions. He seems to think that if the poor rallied and helped each other, instead of taking bribes by political machines, they could demand higher wages. He believes that if the poor worked together, instead against each other, they could rise up and get their way with jobs, pay, working conditions, and in politics.
The Jungle is a very appropriate title for this book. At this time Social Darwinism was being introduced into society and perfectly depicts the life of the poor, injured, and sick. It is impossible for an immigrant to keep a job for any measurable length of time because of the dangerous conditions of the time, the risk of sickness, and the many people waiting in line to jump in and take a weak person’s job. The strong and willing were the only people who worked. The strong were the ones who did not surrender to the temptation of alcohol and drugs. The strong were the ones who caught the eyes of employers, and the strong were the ones who were able to provide for their family and move up in the world. The book shows many examples of the weak dying or falling into a horrible world of drugs, crime, and completely breaking. The only ones who survive in the world of competitive jobs are the strong.
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In the jungle that the book depicted I think Jurgis won, to an extent. Jurgis was the strong one out of his family. He was broken and came out stronger. Jurgis was faced with death, injury, sickness, alcohol, and crime but in the end he decided to fight for what he believed in. He did run away from it all at one point, and went to the country side to work. But he went back and found his sister and got a job, he found socialism, and could provide for himself by any means possible. He did what he could to survive his jungle.
I liked most of the book but I thought that certain parts were a little difficult to believe. My favorite part was when Jurgis resorted to crime because I thought it really showed that people would do anything they had to, to survive. But, on the other hand, there were parts that I didn’t believe like when Jurgis first went to confront Conner about rapping his wife. When he jumped on Conner and was beating him up I would have thought it was more believable for the workers, who didn’t like Conner, to help Jurgis instead of pull him off. It would leave a spot for a new manager and the workers would have been able to take their anger out on him. The book made it seem like they were afraid to lose their jobs, which makes sense, but in the heat of the moment you would think strong men would jump in and help Jurgis.
If the book went on I believe that Jurgis would have continued with his political activism and tried to get as much support as he could for what he believed in. I think that, with the help of the unions, the workers would have succeeded with class consciousness. I think Jurgis’ life would have gotten a little better, with a job that would support him, so he at least would have food and a place to stay.
Overall, I liked the book. I read it back in tenth grade, and liked it then too. I think it does a really good job at putting names and faces to what went on during this time. The book makes you feel the pain, stress, and unhappiness of the people. It makes you happy that you didn’t have to go through what they did, and it makes you thankful for the easy jobs, hours, and high pay we make today. I do think the book is graphic, but I think it has to be to get the real point across.
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