Jurgis begins begging for a job. Unfortunately, the strike ends just as he is at his most desperate. The labor imported during the strike adds more men to the crowds searching for work. Moreover, his standard of living increased exponentially when money came easily to him, so the return to homeless begging hits him hard. He eventually obtains a job only to be fired because he is not strong enough for the work. Winter approaches, and election time arrives again. Jurgis watches bitterly as the graft continues while he can no longer take part in it. He attends a political meeting where he can stay warm, but a policeman throws him out after he falls asleep and begins to snore.
While begging for the price of a night’s lodging, Jurgis encounters a woman he knew from his first years in Packingtown. She is well-dressed now. She does not have any money with her, but she gives him Marija’s address. She urges Jurgis to visit Marija and Teta Elzbieta. She assures him that they will be happy to see him. Jurgis hurries to see Marija. When he enters the building, the police raid the establishment. Jurgis realizes that it is a brothel.
Jurgis spots Marija, and they manage to talk a bit before the police herd them into the police station. Marija explains that neither she nor Teta Elzbieta could support the children with legitimate jobs. She adds that, moreover, Stanislovas died: he fell asleep in the storeroom of an oil factory and a swarm of rats attacked him and killed him. Marija then chose to go into prostitution in order to keep the rest of the family from starvation. She assures Jurgis that they never blamed him for running away and that they know that he did his best. The knowledge of Marija’s shame and Stanislovas’s horrible death haunts Jurgis throughout the night, which he spends in jail.
The madam of the brothel pays Marija’s fine and the prostitutes are set free. The judge lets Jurgis go without penalty because Jurgis says that he had gone merely to visit his sister. He gives a false name at his arrest, and no one recognizes him as Phil Connor’s attacker. Marija later confesses that she is a morphine addict. Most of the prostitutes, she tells Jurgis, are addicted to something. She explains that women are kidnapped and forced into the work and that they cannot leave because the madam keeps them in debt and addicted to drugs. Marija gives Jurgis Teta Elzbieta’s address and urges him to stay with her and her remaining children. Jurgis doesn’t want to see her until he gets a job because he feels guilty for leaving them after Antanas died.
Jurgis spends the rest of the day looking for work. He eats dinner and, while walking the streets, chances upon a political meeting. He enters the hall to sit and rest while he ponders how Teta Elzbieta will receive him. He fears her condemnation and the possibility that she may think that he merely wants to loaf at her expense. He begins to nod off during the speech. A well-dressed woman calls him “comrade” and urges him to listen to the speech. No one tries to throw him out for sleeping.
Jurgis listens to the speech; he has wandered into a socialist political meeting. The speaker details the miserable conditions of life for the common worker. He points out the corrupt practices of big capitalists to grind common laborers into submission. Jurgis finds the expression of all of his misery in the man’s speech. He enters an exultation of joy listening to the rousing words of the speaker. He finds confirmation of everything that he has suffered and everything that he has seen. For the first time, he has found a political party to represent his interests rather than those of the privileged, powerful, and wealthy.
Marija’s entrance into prostitution culminates the essential accusation that Sinclair levels against capitalism: throughout The Jungle, he charges capitalism with trafficking in human lives. Human beings are despicably regarded as useful resources—means to an end rather than individuals—and are used until they are worn out and then ultimately thrown away. As a prostitute, Marija epitomizes this trafficking in human bodies, as society’s perception of her worth lies wholly in her ability to satisfy the basest desires of humankind. Just as the prostitutes are kept in a form of slavery, Sinclair often compares wage laborers to slaves, another form of trafficking in human bodies. Throughout the novel, human lives are bought and sold, although most wage laborers don’t even realize that they are part of a vast market of human flesh.
To this point, the meaning of the title The Jungle has been made painfully clear: the world of the wage laborer is a savage realm characterized by a Darwinian struggle for survival. Those who refuse to sacrifice their humanity, integrity, and individuality do not survive, much less succeed, in this world. New arrivals enter into this jungle crammed with predators waiting to attack them at every turn. The structures of capitalism are a jungle of hidden nooks and crannies, each containing yet another dirty secret. Sinclair’s novel exposes the various levels of deception within the factories as well as the day-to-day details of the wage laborer’s life. He probes the courtroom, prison, and criminal underworld in order to show the far reach of capitalism’s structures of power.
Having gone to such great lengths to illustrate the evils of capitalism, Sinclair now offers socialism as the solution to the problems that the first twenty-seven chapters of the novel have explored in detail. When Jurgis enters the socialist political meeting in Chapter 28, he is a defeated man: he has tried all forms of survival but none has offered the security and the peace of mind that he seeks. The socialist political meeting, however, proves anything but a jungle; rather, it is a haven from the cruel reality of capitalism. The rude awakening at the hands of an unsympathetic policeman is replaced by the gentle nudge of one who wants him to better himself by understanding the socialist message. That this woman addresses him as “comrade” demonstrates her desire for them to be equal, which shocks Jurgis; that she is beautiful and well-dressed pits her against all of the wealthy capitalists who ignore the suffering of the common laborer.
As the speaker catalogues the abuses and suffering of wage laborers, Jurgis reacts to socialism like a new, devout religious convert. Unlike the preacher at the religious revival meeting, who wanted commoners to better themselves according to the existing system, the socialist speaker wants commoners to motivate for change outside the system. He understands Jurgis’s experiences and addresses Jurgis’s needs rather than those of the wealthy. For the first time in America, Jurgis feels that he is no longer alone; just as he earlier gives himself to the quasi-religious pursuit of the American Dream, he is now willing to give himself to this camaraderie.