The Jungle How can Sinclair’s masterpiece be considered an ethnographic* work in the Chicago School tradion? Begin by providing a brief précis of the novel itself (remember I’ve read it, so this shou





The Jungle

Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle is a story about a Lithuanian family who moves to

Chicago to work in the meatpacking industry in Packingtown. Jurgis wants to marry Ona but he

must first get a job. He gets the job of cleaning up entrails and Maria, Ona’s cousin, paints cans.

The rest of the family searches for work to desperately escape their terrible living conditions.

Jurgis’ father is old, and getting a job is not easy. He however gets a job after being willing to

pay a cut of his salary to the boss. Though he was optimistic before, he starts finding it difficult

to live in America. He does not get ahead because of the shady working conditions and a high

turnover of workers. Jurgis and Ona finally get married but the wedding and feast put them in


Notwithstanding they had pooled all they had to buy a house and they furnished it on

credit. A neighbor, however, confirms the unfortunate and terrible working conditions and shares

the neighborhood history. It was after working conditions get worse, and Jurgis’ father dies.

Operating conditions still grow worse, and people start earning less at the plant due to how

hourly wages were paid out. Jurgis gets to become a citizen of the United States, but he votes for

a specific candidate. Jurgis sprains his ankle and is out of work for some time, which adds more

stress to the new family. After months of rest, the only job he can get is at the dreaded fertilizer

factory. Things, however, get worse for him as Ona is expecting their second born, their house is

sold out to another family, Ona and the baby dies. An upcoming election is near, and the

Socialist Party leaders grow hopeful that their influence will continue to grow, especially in


Sinclair’s work shows the cultural aspect of society and how difficult it was living in the

United States as an immigrant. The book shows how hard their lives were, with many getting

work though they get the worst jobs. And because they have families, they would take these jobs

to provide. Politically corrupt, Chicago was run by a powerful politician Mike Scully who was

extremely powerful. With a deteriorating economy, they got low pay, and as seen when Marija

goes back to work, the payment is not as it used to be. Though they were poorly treated and paid

poorly for all their hard work, it was something that only the immigrants faced and something

that had been going on for a long time. It was not until a neighbor tells them about the

neighborhood and the poor working conditions that the Rudkus family realized that they had to

pay interest on the house every month.

The immigrants had, however, started fitting in and living their lives accepting their fate

and working towards making their lives better despite the already poor living and worse working

conditions. While many got to work in the meatpacking industry got to do the dirtiest of jobs.

Jurgis is seen as a worker cleaning entrails to provide for Ona, his wife. Ona and Stanislovas find

work to get more money for the interest in the house. Though they would have gone back to their

original country, they still try their luck and stay in a bid to live the American dream. Though

Jurgis himself gets hurt and injured and also sees that his father died from poor working

conditions, he tries to make Chicago a place for him. Ona, on the other hand, gets a second born,

and this added stress to the already suffering family. But the book shows us how she goes to

work despite being raped by her boss and being intimately involved with him. Upon inquiring,

Jurgis finds out that she did it to support the family. Though she blends in and does what she has

to do, thee could be many other options than staying in a place like Chicago. Jurgis’ father also

died working, showing that no care was given to these people. Marija, on the other hand, had to

become a prostitute to be able to keep the rest of the family members afloat after Jurgis was

arrested. Despite their already poor state, things became worse, but we still see how the family

sticks it through and tries all they can to get close to living the American dream.

Not only were they treated poorly, but they were also paid poorly. Jurgis starts to realize

that he is beginning to get less and less as his salary because of how hourly wages were paid out.

The rich got richer from the misuse of the immigrants from being politically corrupt, while those

who were poor continued to suffer from their wages decreasing. The Jungle shows how Ona’s

second-born increased stress, given that Jurgis was out of work after a sprained ankle. Money is

also scarce as Jurgis lost Ona and their newborn. As a doctor could not be afforded, Ona had to

deliver at home, and by the time the midwife arrives, they both had died. While maternal care

and health are of importance, had they had the money, they would have probably lived. They

also swim in debt after pooling all their money to buy an empty house and furnish it on credit.

The change comes after their wedding and the feast after. While this could have been avoided in

the first place, finances were scarce and went to what was urgent. We see how women get into

drugs and prostitution to provide for their families and even Ona to save the family. Though their

economy was alright, the immigrants were overworked and underpaid to make those in

businesses richer while they got poorer. Suppose either died or missed work for long, then their

posts were taken, and they were left without a job to go back to.

Politically, Chicago was corrupt and led by a powerful politician. It should have been

their work to make sure that all working plants and factories are in the right working conditions.

Instead of making things better and easier for the people of Chicago, he does not, and this mostly

affects the immigrants who have to try and make it while keeping up with the unfavorable

conditions. It is also seen when the meatpackers and the union try to negotiate, and a strike

erupts. Though given a chance to change conditions, Jurgis is chosen by the democrats to help

get a Republican elected strategically.

The culture, in general, lacks support and shows how these poor working-class face the

harsh and unpleasant working and living conditions. There is hopelessness among many workers,

but the people in power are uncaring as they are living their best lives. That people had to turn to

be con men, especially after having worked, means that there was a decay in the society, and

something was lacking. Also, for one to start begging means that the working conditions were

poor. The contrast between those in power or the rich and the poor is depicted by the man who

gives Jurgis a meal and a $100 bill or the millionaire who had a passion for helping the poor,

Fisher. Had they on their own been able to help other Lithuanian families or buy them food and

give them money, no matter how small, they would have nurtured a culture more understanding

of each other.

Many changes are seen that the family had to adjust to. However, some bitter and other

sweet, they had to work with all their might to get the money that would help them further adapt

or risk getting kicked out. Jurgis, for example, had to realize that to get married to Ona, he had to

get a job to get them a house and to keep them going. Because of this, he works hard in the

meatpacking industry, the fertilizer company, in the city at the machine shop, digging tunnels.

Though we see him trying to keep his family and even himself afloat, we see the torture and the

pain he has to go through to get the money that was not enough. While he toiled to get the

economy and the society running, he was hurting and ailing, and no one cared. At some point, it

even reduced. Other times he was left to fend for himself as the factory shut down or look for

different ways to survive. As these did not work, he turned to beg and coning people to try to

make a living. Ona and Marija were forced into prostitution to make ends meet (Tönnies, 19).

As Tonnies sees it, real and historical life is represented communities’ life and their natural will.

Though they were not as muscular as their counterparts were and mostly were not required to go

to work, they had to after things started getting bad and Jurgis out of work. While these changes

show the extent to which the Rudkus family had to go through, it still shows the need as to why

they had to get to such extents. Also, with the division in social structure, Jurgis found himself as

a hobo once before joining a gang and finally getting to become boss after a Republican was

elected. Through all this, he would get drunk to escape reality especially after the heart-

wrenching experiences as losing his wife and newborn (Simmel, 36).

The Chicago School model explains the changes the immigrant community faced. The

book’s lesson on a community is the more separated and the wider the gap between the poor and

the rich, and the society might suffer as the people and economies suffer. The millionaire who

spends time with the poor and helps them might be a better leader and a better politician for them

as he has their interests at heart. Workers, in this case, can openly express their grievances to

such a person and expect to get assisted. Also, one who cares enough to feed and give them

money shows that he would like to see them well or at least doing better than the day before.

Instead, the community is torn apart by the political corruption in Chicago.

Works Cited

1. Simmel, Georg. “The metropolis and mental life.” The urban sociology reader.

Routledge, 2012. 37-45.

2. Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle:(1906). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

3. Tönnies, Ferdinand. “Community and society.” The urban sociology reader 13 (1887)

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