Summary: Chapter 29
To Jurgis the packers had been equivalent to fate; Ostrinski showed him that they were . . . a gigantic combination of capital.
After the meeting ends, Jurgis finds the speaker resting amid a crowd of people. He asks for more information about the party, and the speaker directs him to Ostrinski, a socialist who speaks Lithuanian. Ostrinski takes Jurgis to his home. They share their experiences in scraping out a miserable existence. Ostrinski explains that wage-earners have nothing but their labor to sell. None of them can obtain a price for it that is higher than what the most desperate worker will take.
Ostrinski explains that there are two economic classes: the small, privileged capitalist class and the large, impoverished proletariat. Because the capitalists are few in number, they can easily work together in favor of their own interests. The proletariat, on the other hand, is large and generally ignorant. Ostrinski explains that workers need to gain “class consciousness” so that they can organize in favor of their interests. In this way, they can avoid the merciless wage competition. Ostrinski calls the current system “wage slavery.” Although America claims to be the land of the free, Ostrinski explains that political freedom doesn’t alleviate the grinding misery of wage slavery. He adds that socialism is necessarily a worldwide movement: any one nation that achieves success will be crushed by the others around it. Ostrinski calls socialism the “new religion” of humanity. He adds that it could also be interpreted as the fulfillment of Christian values on Earth.
Summary: Chapter 30
Jurgis visits Teta Elzbieta to tell her about socialism. She is happy to hear that he wishes to work and help support the family. She even agrees to attend socialist political meetings with him from time to time. Jurgis finds a job as a porter in a small hotel that pays thirty dollars a month plus board. Ostrinski informs Jurgis that his new boss, Tommy Hinds, is actually a state organizer for the socialist party and a well-known socialist speaker. Hinds is overjoyed to find that Jurgis is a comrade. Hinds never tires of preaching socialism in his hotel and elsewhere. Socialists flock to the hotel, so the radical philosophy of the proprietor does not hurt the business he owns. Hinds often urges Jurgis to detail the horrendous filth of the meat-packing plants along with the real recipes for tinned meats and sausages.
Jurgis takes up the socialist cause with a passion. He endeavors to read newspapers, including The Appeal to Reason, and learn all about the political and economic systems of power in America. He becomes angry and frustrated when he cannot sway people to socialism.
Summary: Chapter 31
Jurgis attempts to persuade Marija to leave prostitution, but she explains that she cannot because she is addicted to morphine. She plans to remain a prostitute for the rest of her life.
Jurgis attends a meeting with a magazine editor who opposes socialism but has agreed to listen to some proponents of the movement. Jurgis’s role is to detail the unsanitary conditions under which meat is packed and sold to the public. Nicholas Schliemann, a fierce socialist, explains that the movement wishes to enact public ownership of the means of production. Once the inefficiency of production is eliminated through science and eradication of graft, no worker will be obliged to labor for countless hours a day merely to survive. He can work as little as two hours a day and devote the rest of his time to his personal interests.
The basic goals of socialism are “common ownership and democratic management of the means of producing the necessities of life.” The means to bring about this revolution is to raise the class consciousness of the proletariat around the world through political organization. Later, the socialist party achieves phenomenal victories in the elections across the country. A spirited speaker at a political meeting urges socialists to continue fighting because the victory is not yet won, encouraging them with the words, “Chicago will be ours!”
Analysis: Chapters 29–31
The final chapters of The Jungle largely abandon the narrative, functioning as an explanation and an argument for socialism. Insofar as they tell a story, it is the story of Jurgis’s process of conversion to socialism. The newly introduced Ostrinski and Schliemann are less dramatic characters than mouthpieces for socialism. The ending of The Jungle is, to a great extent, meant to be simplistic. Sinclair’s aim, after all, is not to present the complicated nuances of actual political and economic practices but to persuade the reader to adopt his opinions. The lack of literary sophistication in the ending is obvious, but it is also questionable whether the simplistic ending and the one-dimensional story in general make for the most persuasive political argument. One can argue that the credibility of the novel as reportage becomes doubtful as it begins to resemble propaganda. Sinclair closes his sharp eye for detail when he examines socialism, and the effect stunts the humanity of the people whom he wants to liberate. Ironically, the peoples’ movement seems devoid of real human beings. If Sinclair wants the reader to identify with his socialists, he fails because there is no real human being with whom to identify. Jurgis, a constricted character to begin with, almost disappears, and the new characters are flatter than any that Sinclair has offered so far.
The shift to pure propaganda in the final chapters occasions several awkward ruptures in the narrative perspective. Throughout The Jungle, Sinclair narrates events as seen through the eyes of Jurgis, though he sometimes employs a more omniscient perspective to describe business dealings and social problems that Jurgis doesn’t witness. In an attempt to weave these passages into the narrative fabric, Sinclair has Jurgis learn of them at some unspecified future point in time. As the volume of political argument increases in the final chapters, the interweaving of political commentary and narrative structure becomes more forced. Sinclair recounts that “after Jurgis had made himself more familiar with the Socialist literature, as he would very quickly, he would get glimpses of the Beef Trust from all sorts of aspects . . .”; a lengthy polemic against the Beef Trust then follows, as if it comprises the knowledge that Sinclair claims that Jurgis gains.
The meetings that Jurgis attends provide another forum for Sinclair to air his politics, as does the literature that Jurgis reads. These framing devices are sites of tension between Sinclair’s politics and the demands of literary composition. Sinclair wants to make his argument in as blunt a language as possible, but the work of fiction has its own laws of internal consistency. The journalistic style that Sinclair employs requires realism. Moreover, a narrative perspective that filters events and ideas through the experience of the protagonist must do so consistently or risk breaking apart. The framing devices show that Sinclair feels these demands. He knows that information about the Beef Trust cannot simply be inserted into the text; rather, its presence has to be justified in the narrative structure. Thus, Jurgis learns about the Beef Trust at some future, unspecified point, and Sinclair is free to rail against it.
One can argue again, however, that these framing devices are too cheap to be effective. They are usually a single sentence, an afterthought. Perhaps their real failure, though, lies in the fact that they do not control the information that follows. They claim that what follows is witnessed or learned by Jurgis, but Jurgis’s perspective disappears in the subsequent argument. The reader doesn’t learn how Jurgis, in particular, receives what he learns from socialist literature. Jurgis doesn’t filter events and information through his subjectivity; he is simply a conduit: “Such was the home in which Jurgis lived and worked. . . .” His character, one might argue, becomes not only flat but hollow.
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