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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.
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