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The Jungle

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.