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The meat-packing industry

The family knows all the dirty secrets of the meat-packing industry. The most spoiled of meats becomes sausage. All manner of dishonesty exists in the selling diseased, rotten, and adulterated meat to American households. The working members of the family fall into a silent stupor due to the grinding poverty and misery of their lives. Ona and Jurgis grow apart. Jurgis begins to drink heavily. He delivers himself from full-blown alcoholism through force of will, but the desire to drink always torments him. Antanas suffers all manner of childhood illnesses, but the measles attacks him with fury.

However, he reaches is first birthday owing to his strong constitution despite the privations under which his family suffers. He is perpetually malnourished like the rest of Packingtown. Ona, pregnant again, develops a bad cough and suffers increasingly frequent bouts of hysterical crying. Winter arrives again, and with it comes the grueling rush season. Fifteen and sixteen hour workdays are frequent. Twice, Ona does not return home at night. She explains that the snow drifts kept her away, so she stayed with a friend. Jurgis discovers that she lied about staying with her friend.

He wrangles a confession out of her. Sobbing hysterically, Ona confesses that, Connor, a boss at her factory continually harassed her and pleaded with her to become his mistress. Eventually, he raped her in the factory after everyone had gone home. He threatened to arrange the firings of every wage earner in her household. Moreover, he threatened to prevent them from obtaining work in Packingtown ever again. With these threats, he forced her into accompanying him to Miss Henderson’s brothel in the evenings for the past two months. The recent snowstorms prevented Ona from returning home twice.

Jurgis storms to Ona’s workplace. It takes more than a half dozen men subdue him before he can choke the life out of Connor. Jurgis is arrested and taken to jail where old men and boys, hardened criminals and petty criminals, innocent men and guilty men share the same squalid quarters. Jurgis’s trial date is set, and his bond is three hundred dollars. Jurgis spends the Christmas holidays in jail, worrying about his family. While Jurgis awaits his trial, he becomes friends with his cell mate, Jack Duane. Jack claims to be an educated man from the East.

His father committed suicide after his business failed. Jack claims that a big ompany later cheated him out of a lucrative invention. After his misfortunes, Jack became a safe-breaker. Before his trial, Jack gives Jurgis his mistress’s address and encourages him to seek his help should the need arise. Jurgis’s trial is a farce. Kotrina and Teta Elzbieta attend it. Connor and several witnesses testify that Conner fired Ona fairly, and Jurgis attacked him for revenge. Jurgis tells his side of the story through an interpreter, but the judge is not sympathetic.

He sentences Jurgis to thirty days in prison. Jurgis begs for clemency because his family will starve, but the judge remains firm. In Bridewell, Jurgis and the other prisoners spend the greater portion of their time breaking stone. He writes a postcard to his family to let them know where he is. Ten days later Stanislovas visits to tell him that he, Ona, Marija, and Teta Elzbieta have all lost their jobs. They are unable to pay rent or buy food. Marija is suffering blood poisoning because she cut her hand at work. Ona lies in bed, crying all day. Teta Elzbieta’s sausage factory shut down.

Stanislovas lost his job after a snowstorm prevented him from going to work for three days. No one can obtain other jobs because they are too sick and weak and because Conner is scheming to prevent them. Stanislovas asks if Jurgis can help them. Jurgis has no more than fourteen cents to give. Kotrina, Stanislovas, and the children earn money selling papers. Their only other income comes through begging. Commentary Packingtown is full of predators. Connor, empowered through his criminal connections, violates the marriage bond between Jurgis and Ona. No individual really has the power to fight for themselves.

Marija tried to fight for her full wages only to be fired. Ona cannot afford to reject Connor’s advances because he has the power to ruin her family. The wage laborer is systematically crippled and silenced by the power structure enabled by capitalism. Jurgis’s attack on Connor would be perfectly justified according to the values of the American reading public. A man has violated his wife against her will. However, judges are bought and sold by men with power and money, so Jurgis spends thirty-three days in jail for his attack. Sinclair clearly means to charge capitalism with perverting the American justice system.

The judge ares little that his ruling means the difference between starvation and security, albeit precarious, for an entire family. Sinclair also charges capitalism with being anti- Christian. Christianity was and still is a strong social force in American culture. Jurgis spends the Christmas holidays separated from his family. Moreover, his time in jail leads to their eviction from their home. Sinclair means to portray capitalism as a threat to fundamental American values again. The family suffers a slew of misfortunes following Jurgis’s imprisonment. This clearly marks the family’s inevitable descent into run.

Despite all of their best efforts to provide greater opportunities to the next generation, no sacrifice by the older one is enough. The odds are stacked too high against them. All of the able- bodied children have to work after Jurgis’s imprisonment. Even that provides them with barely enough income to survive. Marija has suffered an injury that may eventually require the amputation of her hand. Stanislovas’s hands are already damaged by frostbite. Everywhere in Packingtown, there are wage laborers who suffer from some form of permanent disfigurement directly and indirectly related to their work.

In a sense, the prevalence of these disfiguring injuries is a metaphor for butchery of human bodies. Human beings are butchered in the service of profit-making as well as the animals. Hard work, family values, self-reliance, and self- motivated action do absolutely nothing to provide the means for social advancement. The wage laborers that populate The Jungle are moved inevitably towards ruin and abuse by forces beyond their control. Capitalism is a forces as inevitable and careless as nature. It picks off unfortunate individuals as carelessly as cold weather, disease, and heat exhaustion.

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