A Lithuanian immigrant who comes to America with his wife, Ona. Jurgis is a strong, determined individual with a faith in the American Dream of self-betterment, but his health, family, and hopes are slowly destroyed by the miserable working and living conditions in Packingtown. Jurgis, who doesn’t elicit much more from the reader than pity, is an obvious instrument that Sinclair uses to express his vision of the exploitation of the worker by capitalism and his redemption by socialism.
Teta Elzbieta’s stepdaughter and Jurgis’s wife. A kind, lovely, and optimistic girl, Ona is ruined by the forces of capitalism that work against the family, particularly after she is raped by her boss, Phil Connor.
Ona’s stepmother and the mother of six others. A resilient, strong-willed old woman, Teta Elzbieta is one of the strongest and most important characters in The Jungle. Sinclair uses her to represent the redemptive power of family, home, and tradition.
Ona’s cousin, who travels to America with the rest of the family because her employer in the old country is unkind to her. Marija is a large, strong woman, capable of standing up for herself; because she first tries to fight back against the corrupt bosses, she represents a spirit of defiance among the immigrants that is slowly crushed.
Ona’s boss, who sexually harasses her at the factory where she works. A bullying, depraved man, Connor represents the moral corruption of power in Chicago as well as the complicated relationship between politics, crime, and business. He has ties to all three and, thus, has the power to destroy Jurgis’s life.
Jurgis’s father, who travels to America with the rest of the family. A proud man, Dede Antanas is prevented by his old age from obtaining a job through normal means. He has to resort to the humiliation of paying a man a third of his wages in return for a job, whose unsanitary and unsafe working conditions destroy his health.
Ona and Jurgis’s son. Antanas is a strong, sturdy little boy, but he drowns in the mud in the street while Jurgis is at work. The death of Antanas signals the death of hope in Jurgis’s life.
The family’s Lithuanian neighbor when they move into their house. A concerned old woman, Grandmother Majauszkiene has lived in Packingtown for many years and has seen one generation after another of immigrants ground into ruin by the merciless labor practices of the factories. She became a socialist before she even came to America.
One of Teta Elzbieta’s two crippled children, injured when a wagon ran over one of his legs when he was a toddler. Juozapas unwittingly helps the family when he meets a rich lady while foraging for food in the local dump.
One of Teta Elzbieta’s children, who is forced to care for the children and do household chores. When Jurgis is sent to prison, Kotrina has to go to work selling newspapers on the streets with her able-bodied brothers.
One of Teta Elzbieta’s children, a young boy of about fourteen. Stanislovas shirks his responsibilities as a wage earner because he is terrified of frostbite. Jurgis often has to beat him to make him go to work.
Teta Elzbieta’s brother, who first encourages the family to travel to America. After months of poverty in Packingtown, Jonas disappears, and the family never hears from him again. His absence deprives the family of a key wage earner and throws them into a greater financial crisis.
A polished, charismatic criminal whom Jurgis meets during his first prison term. Jack later introduces Jurgis to Chicago’s criminal underworld, where money comes easily to Jurgis for the first time in America.
The forelady in Ona’s factory. Cruel and bitter, Miss Henderson is the jilted mistress of one of the factory superintendents. She also runs a brothel and arranges to get jobs for some of the prostitutes who work for her. She hates Ona because Ona is a “decent married girl,” and she and her toadies try to make Ona as miserable as possible.
The proprietor of a small Chicago hotel and a well-known proponent of socialism. Jurgis obtains a job as Hinds’s porter not long after his conversion to socialism.
A Polish immigrant who speaks Lithuanian. After Jurgis hears a rousing speech at a socialist political meeting, Ostrinski is assigned the task of teaching Jurgis about socialism.
A spokesperson for socialism. Nicholas gives a long explanation of socialist philosophy to a magazine editor who has written against socialism in the past. He functions as a mouthpiece for Sinclair’s own political philosophy.
A corrupt, wealthy democrat in Chicago who owns the festering dump in which Juozapas and other children forage for food. Scully makes money off the housing scheme to which Jurgis’s family falls victim. He works at rigging elections, and Jurgis becomes one of his henchmen during his brief stint in the Chicago criminal underworld.
The failing proprietor of a delicatessen in Packingtown who knows Jonas from the old country. A kind but troubled man, Jokubas represents the harsh reality of capitalism and reveals the naïveté of Jurgis’s dreams of success.