Throughout The Jungle, Sinclair’s characters are not so much well-rounded, believable characters as they are representative figures of the immigrant working class as a whole. The greatest evidence of Sinclair’s use of Jurgis to garner sympathy and admiration is that he doesn’t possess any true character flaw. When he acts immorally or selfishly, as when he goes out drinking after Ona’s death or abandons the family after Antanas’s death, we are always meant to understand that he does so out of the hurt and misery that his environment forces upon him. Jurgis’s characteristics are designed to make him appealing to the average American reader of 1906, and at the beginning of the novel, he has no unsympathetic traits. He is young, strong, optimistic, energetic, devoted to his family, and enthusiastic about his new country. He has a powerful belief in the American Dream—the idea that hard work will beget rewards. When Ona worries about the debt that their wedding feast will force them to assume, Jurgis earnestly promises, “I will work harder,” as though doing so will guarantee material success.
As Jurgis’s idealism and naïveté are slowly ground into oblivion by the oppressive conditions of life in Packingtown, the pain causes Jurgis to act out of character for long periods of time. The values with which he first equips himself in his pursuit of happiness begin to seem irrelevant: he uses his earnings to drink heavily instead of saving, he abandons his family, and he turns to corruption and crime as a source of income. But at no point are we meant to judge Jurgis harshly or think that he is simply an immoral, uncaring person. On the contrary, we are supposed to bear in mind that he is the exact opposite sort of person. Jurgis presents an idealized portrait of the working poor; his degradation illustrates how capitalism fails the working class.
Like Jurgis, Ona is more a type than an individual, and Sinclair constructs her as an appealing feminine contrast to Jurgis’s masculinity. Whereas Jurgis is confident and optimistic, Ona is fragile and easily frightened, as when she frets over the cost of the wedding feast mere moments after marrying Jurgis. Ona is extremely young—not even sixteen at the start of the novel—and is presented as a delicate, lovely picture of female traits that Sinclair believed his readers would find laudable: docility, loyalty, and trust in her husband and family. Ona experiences a crisis when Phil Connor rapes her, and she takes on a more independent existence when she lies to Jurgis about her whereabouts so that he will not guess what has happened to her. But generally, throughout the novel, Ona is mainly portrayed as a girl for Jurgis to love and a wife to complete the family ideal that Sinclair repeatedly exposes to the destructive forces of capitalism. Ona’s death occurs in Chapter 19, only slightly more than halfway through the novel, and her final months are largely a slide into increased fragility and poor health caused by her return to work only a week after giving birth to Antanas. In this way, Ona’s death is portrayed as another sacrifice that Jurgis must make to capitalism, which pulls his family apart before he can even fully establish it.
In contrast to Jurgis and her stepdaughter Ona, Teta Elzbieta is not young; she is a mother of six living children and is nearing old age at the start of the novel. Where Jurgis has energy, Teta Elzbieta has inner strength; where he has faith in his work ethic, she has a commitment to her home and family. Throughout the novel, she represents the strength of family and traditions of the old country. For this reason, as the novel progresses, Teta Elzbieta gradually emerges as one of its strongest and most important characters. Forced to endure innumerable privations, from the disappearance of her brother Jonas to the deaths of two of her own children and her stepdaughter Ona, Teta Elzbieta remains steady and strong. She is willing to work when the family needs her to, but her real place is in the home, and her transition into the world outside it represents another powerful blow to the family. At the end of the novel, however, she has quietly weathered the worst of the storm and is able to survive with the fragments of her family around her. Pragmatic rather than stubborn, she accepts Jurgis back into the family after his long abandonment because he can provide for the family. Her experiences dealing with adversity have molded her outlook such that she judges Jurgis and his new socialist politics based on his and their immediate benefit to the family.
Jokubas has the financial deli failure, not Tamaosizas (I know that I didn't spell it right lol)
2 out of 4 people found this helpful