The Jungle

This is an excerpt from The Jungle, a novel by Upton Sinclair published in 1906. The Jungle advanced the cause of food safety by raising public consciousness about conditions in the meatpacking industry.
Upton Sinclair
Grade Level

[From Chapter 2]

Jurgis talked lightly about work‚ because he was young. They told him stories about the breaking down of men‚ there in the stockyards of Chicago‚ and of what had happened to them afterward--stories to make your flesh creep‚ but Jurgis would only laugh. He had only been there four months‚ and he was young‚ and a giant besides. There was too much health in him. He could not even imagine how it would feel to be beaten. “That is well enough for men like you‚" he would say‚ "silpnas‚ puny fellows--but my back is broad."

Jurgis was like a boy‚ a boy from the country. He was the sort of man the bosses like to get hold of‚ the sort they make it a grievance they cannot get hold of. When he was told to go to a certain place‚ he would go there on the run. When he had nothing to do for the moment‚ he would stand round fidgeting‚ dancing‚ with the overflow of energy that was in him. If he were working in a line of men‚ the line always moved too slowly for him‚ and you could pick him out by his impatience and restlessness. That was why he had been picked out on one important occasion; for Jurgis had stood outside of Brown and Company’s “Central Time Station” not more than half an hour‚ the second day of his arrival in Chicago‚ before he had been beckoned by one of the bosses. Of this he was very proud‚ and it made him more disposed than ever to laugh at the pessimists. In vain would they all tell him that there were men in that crowd from which he had been chosen who had stood there a month--yes‚ many months--and not been chosen yet. “Yes‚” he would say‚ “but what sort of men? Broken-down tramps and good-for-nothings‚ fellows who have spent all their money drinking‚ and want to get more for it. Do you want me to believe that with these arms” --and he would clench his fists and hold them up in the air‚ so that you might see the rolling muscles--that with these arms people will ever let me starve?”

[From Chapter 5]

This was the first time in his life that he had ever really worked‚ it seemed to Jurgis; it was the first time that he had ever had anything to do which took all he had in him. Jurgis had stood with the rest up in the gallery and watched the men on the killing beds‚ marveling at their speed and power as if they had been wonderful machines; it somehow never occurred to one to think of the flesh-and-blood side of it--that is‚ not until he actually got down into the pit and took off his coat. Then he saw things in a different light‚ he got at the inside of them. The pace they set here‚ it was one that called for every faculty of a man--from the instant the first steer fell till the sounding of the noon whistle‚ and again from half-past twelve till heaven only knew what hour in the late afternoon or evening‚ there was never one instant’s rest for a man‚ for his hand or his eye or his brain. Jurgis saw how they managed it; there were portions of the work which determined the pace of the rest‚ and for these they had picked men whom they paid high wages‚ and whom they changed frequently. You might easily pick out these pacemakers‚ for they worked under the eye of the bosses‚ and they worked like men possessed. This was called “speeding up the gang‚” and if any man could not keep up with the pace‚ there were hundreds outside begging to try.

[From Chapter 7]

Now the dreadful winter was come upon them. In the forests‚ all summer long‚ the branches of the trees do battle for light‚ and some of them lose and die; and then come the raging blasts‚ and the storms of snow and hail‚ and strew the ground with these weaker branches. Just so it was in Packing town; the whole district braced itself for the struggle that was an agony‚ and those whose time was come died off in hordes. All the year round they had been serving as cogs in the great packing machine; and now was the time for the renovating of it‚ and the replacing of damaged parts. There came pneumonia and grippe‚ stalking among them‚ seeking for weakened constitutions; there was the annual harvest of those whom tuberculosis had been dragging down. There came cruel‚ cold‚ and biting winds‚ and blizzards of snow‚ all testing relentlessly for failing muscles and impoverished blood. Sooner or later came the day when the unfit one did not report for work; and then‚ with no time lost in waiting‚ and no inquiries or regrets‚ there was a chance for a new hand.

The new hands were here by the thousands. All day long the gates of the packing houses were besieged by starving and penniless men; they came‚ literally‚ by the thousands every single morning‚ fighting with each other for a chance for life. Blizzards and cold made no difference to them‚ they were always on hand; they were on hand two hours before the sun rose‚ an hour before the work began. Sometimes their faces froze‚ sometimes their feet and their hands; sometimes they froze all together--but still they came‚ for they had no other place to go. One day Durham advertised in the paper for two hundred men to cut ice; and all that day the homeless and starving of the city came trudging through the snow from all over its two hundred square miles. That night forty score of them crowded into the station house of the stockyards district--they filled the rooms‚ sleeping in each other’s laps‚ toboggan fashion‚ and they piled on top of each other in the corridors‚ till the police shut the doors and left some to freeze outside. On the morrow‚ before daybreak‚ there were three thousand at Durham’s‚ and the police reserves had to be sent for to quell the riot. Then Durham’s bosses picked out twenty of the biggest; the “two hundred” proved to have been a printer’s error.

[From Chapter 11]

It was in one of these melees that Jurgis fell into his trap. That is the only word to describe it; it was so cruel‚ and so utterly not to be foreseen. At first he hardly noticed it‚ it was such a slight accident--simply that in leaping out of the way he turned his ankle. There was a twinge of pain‚ but Jurgis was used to pain‚ and did not coddle himself. When he came to walk home‚ however‚ he realized that it was hurting him a great deal; and in the morning his ankle was swollen out nearly double its size‚ and he could not get his foot into his shoe. Still‚ even then‚ he did nothing more than swear a little‚ and wrapped his foot in old rags‚ and hobbled out to take the car. It chanced to be a rush day at Durham’s‚ and all the long morning he limped about with his aching foot; by noontime the pain was so great that it made him faint‚ and after a couple of hours in the afternoon he was fairly beaten‚ and had to tell the boss. They sent for the company doctor‚ and he examined the foot and told Jurgis to go home to bed‚ adding that he had probably laid himself up for months by his folly. The injury was not one that Durham and Company could be held responsible for‚ and so that was all there was to it‚ so far as the doctor was concerned.

[From Chapter 12]

The latter part of April Jurgis went to see the doctor‚ and was given a bandage to lace about his ankle‚ and told that he might go back to work. It needed more than the permission of the doctor‚ however‚ for when he showed up on the killing floor of Brown’s‚ he was told by the foreman that it had not been possible to keep his job for him. Jurgis knew that this meant simply that the foreman had found someone else to do the work as well and did not want to bother to make a change. He stood in the doorway‚ looking mournfully on‚ seeing his friends and companions at work‚ and feeling like an outcast. Then he went out and took his place with the mob of the unemployed.

This time‚ however‚ Jurgis did not have the same fine confidence‚ nor the same reason for it. He was no longer the finest-looking man in the throng‚ and the bosses no longer made for him; he was thin and haggard‚ and his clothes were seedy‚ and he looked miserable. And there were hundreds who looked and felt just like him‚ and who had been wandering about Packingtown for months begging for work. This was a critical time in Jurgis’ life‚ and if he had been a weaker man he would have gone the way the rest did. Those out-of-work wretches would stand about the packing houses every morning till the police drove them away‚ and then they would scatter among the saloons. Very few of them had the nerve to face the rebuffs that they would encounter by trying to get into the buildings to interview the bosses; if they did not get a chance in the morning‚ there would be nothing to do but hang about the saloons the rest of the day and night. Jurgis was saved from all this--partly‚ to be sure‚ because it was pleasant weather‚ and there was no need to be indoors; but mainly because he carried with him always the pitiful little face of his wife. He must get work‚ he told himself‚ fighting the battle with despair every hour of the day. He must get work! He must have a place again and some money saved up‚ before the next winter came.

But there was no work for him. …

The peculiar bitterness of all this was that Jurgis saw so plainly the meaning of it. In the beginning he had been fresh and strong‚ and he had gotten a job the first day; but now he was second-hand‚ a damaged article‚ so to speak‚ and they did not want him. They had got the best of him--they had worn him out‚ with their speeding-up and their carelessness‚ and now they had thrown him away! And Jurgis would make the acquaintance of others of these unemployed men and find that they had all had the same experience.… simply the worn-out parts of the great merciless packing machine; they had toiled there‚ and kept up with the pace‚ some of them for ten or twenty years‚ until finally the time had come when they could not keep up with it any more.… They had been overworked and underfed so long‚ and finally some disease had laid them on their backs; or they had cut themselves‚ and had blood poisoning‚ or met with some other accident. When a man came back after that‚ he would get his place back only by the courtesy of the boss. To this there was no exception‚ save when the accident was one for which the firm was liable; in that case they would send a slippery lawyer to see him‚ first to try to get him to sign away his claims‚ but if he was too smart for that‚ to promise him that he and his should always be provided with work. This promise they would keep‚ strictly and to the letter--for two years. Two years was the “statute of limitations‚” and after that the victim could not sue.

This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    What does marveling mean? What in the sentence helps you to know this? Why is it ironic that Jurgis marveled at the workers’ speed and power?
    To marvel at something or someone means to look at it or the person in amazement. The comparison of them to “wonderful machines” is a positive image, so it can be inferred that their speed and power was something to be appreciated or was positive in some way. It is ironic because Jurgis didn’t yet understand that they had no choice but to work so quickly. They needed to keep up with the pacemakers, but he didn’t realize this until he himself was working alongside the men.
  2. Question
    In the excerpt from chapter 7, what does the narrator liken to “the dreadful winter”?
    The narrator likens the sicknesses and weakness that overcame the men to the winter. Similar to the trees’ fight to survive, the men also had to fight to survive and continue working. For the day that they did not show up for work is the day that they were replaced.
  3. Question
    How does Jurgis view himself in the beginning of the text provided? What does he come to understand at the end of the text provided?
    In the beginning, he sees himself as invincible. “He could not even imagine how it would feel to be beaten.” He also sees himself as being perhaps better than or at least different from the other men standing outside the company’s building. This feeling is endorsed by how quickly he is sought out by his employers. However, by the end of the text, he realizes that he was never invincible, only young and strong and able, and those qualities were stripped of him by the hard work he gave to the company. When they had gotten all they could out of him, they cast him aside, just like all of the other men standing outside the company’s building. So really, he wasn’t any different from them. He was a part of the same mistreated group.
Reveal Answers
Abolitionists William Still, Sojourner Truth, William Loyd Garrison, unidentified male and female slaves, and Black Union soldiers in front of American flag

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