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The Jungle

Foreignness

Quotes Foreignness
And this was fact, for Jurgis had never seen a city, and scarcely even a fair-sized town, until he had set out to make his fortune in the world and earn his right to Ona. His father, and his father’s father before him, and as many ancestors back as legend could go, had lived in that part of Lithuania known as Brelovicz, the Imperial Forest.

Here, the narrator describes Jurgis’s misunderstanding about his new situation. When Jurgis explains to the men he works with that he will never starve because of his strength and work ethic, they reply that his ideas reveal he’s from the country. In fact, Jurgis had never even seen a city before coming to Chicago. Not only are the customs and language in America foreign to Jurgis, but he had never experienced how busy, dirty, and crowded cities can be. Nothing in this new life feels familiar to him, aside from his family. The old rules about hard work from his homeland no longer apply.

One of the first problems that Jurgis ran upon was that of the unions. He had had no experience with unions, and he had to have it explained to him that the men were banded together for the purpose of fighting for their rights. Jurgis asked them what they meant by their rights, a question in which he was quite sincere, for he had not any idea of any rights that he had, except the right to hunt for a job, and do as he was told when he got it. Generally, however, this harmless question would only make his fellow-workingmen lose their tempers and call him a fool.

When a delegate from the union comes to Jurgis to persuade him to join the union, he becomes confused about the union’s purpose and does not see the point in paying dues to belong to one. The idea of having “rights” feels so foreign to Jurgis that he cannot comprehend why anyone would want to pay to protect their rights. While he seems to have expected the hard work required of him in America, to an extent, the idea of working with others to ensure protection feels inconceivable.

But they had come to a new country, where everything was different, including the food. They had always been accustomed to eat a great deal of smoked sausage, and how could they know that what they bought in America was not the same—that its color was made by chemicals, and its smoky flavor by more chemicals, and that it was full of “potato-flour” besides?

The narrator explains how Jurgis and his family cut their spending to make ends meet and that they do not know how to get quality food at reasonable prices. Even the preparation of and method for selling food in America seems foreign to them, despite the fact that they keep trying to make the same food as they did in Lithuania. This lack of knowledge leads them to spend more than they otherwise would to eat unhealthy food, which only continues the cycle of poverty for immigrants.