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The Jungle

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Jungle

author  Upton Sinclair

type of work  Novel

genre  Social criticism, political fiction, muckraking fiction

language  English

time and place written  1905–1906, Chicago and Princeton, New Jersey

date of first publication  1906

publisher  Sinclair published the novel at his own expense after several publishing firms rejected it.

narrator  Though the narrator is anonymous, his sympathy for the laborers and vilification of capitalists identifies him as Sinclair’s mouthpiece.

point of view  The third-person narrator focuses on what Jurgis Rudkus does and what he feels, learns, and experiences. The quasi-omniscient narrator also provides commentary on the social forces that affect characters’ lives, though often this commentary is framed as knowledge that Jurgis gains at some future point.

tone  Sinclair’s attitude toward the story is obvious: the victimized working class is righteous, and the oppressing capitalists are evil. Sinclair’s perspective is identical to that of the narrator.

tense  Past

setting (time)  Early 1900s

setting (place)  Packingtown, the meat-packing sector of Chicago

protagonist  Jurgis

major conflict  Jurgis and his family attempt to pursue the American Dream, but wage slavery and the oppression of capitalism shatter every aspect of their lives.

rising action  Phil Connor’s rape of Ona; Jurgis’s having to spend Christmas in jail away from his family; Ona’s death during childbirth

climax  Upon hearing of Antanas’s death, in Chapter 21, Jurgis feels destroyed by capitalism.

falling action  Jurgis’s abandonment of his family and turn to dishonest means to survive; Marija’s turn to prostitution

themes  Socialism as a remedy for the evils of capitalism; the immigrant experience and the hollowness of the American Dream

motifs  Corruption; family and tradition

symbols  Packingtown and the stockyards symbolize the exploitation of workers; the idea of the jungle symbolizes the capitalist idea of the survival of the fittest; cans of rotten meat symbolize the disingenuous face of capitalism; Teta Elzbieta symbolizes the family, while Jonas symbolizes capitalism’s destruction of the family.

foreshadowing  The grim setting of Packingtown foreshadows the family’s eventual destruction; the conversation with Grandmother Majauszkiene about the housing swindle foreshadows their eviction; Jurgis’s experiences with vote-buying and crime early in the novel foreshadow his later participation in similar schemes.