Marija learns that her job came at the expense of a fifteen-year employee. She also learns that Jonas obtained his job after his predecessor died as a result of the unsafe working conditions. Jurgis notes that unfit meat, such as calf fetuses and animals that have died of disease, are butchered and packed with the rest of the meat.
Analysis: Chapters 3–5
This section continues Sinclair’s demolition of the American Dream as he builds his argument against capitalism and for socialism. Jurgis, who still naïvely holds onto the American Dream, views the factories with undiluted optimism. Sinclair portrays him as utterly committed to the values of labor and family on which the American Dream is based. Again, he attempts to make Jurgis appear sympathetic to the average American reader. Unlike Jurgis, the more experienced Jokubas views the entire process with sarcasm because he knows better. He knows the corrupt owners of the vast meatpacking empire betray the values of the American Dream in every way possible.
The vast stockyards, packed with cattle, pigs, and sheep, demonstrate the marvelous efficiency of the economic machinery of the meatpacking industry. However, the animals packed into the stockyards and herded into slaughter serve also as metaphors for the immigrant laborers who crowd into Packingtown looking for the opportunity to earn a piece of the American Dream. Like these ill-fated animals, the unsuspecting Jurgis and other immigrants are herded into the machinery of capitalism and slaughtered en masse.
Sinclair’s description of the unsanitary and disgusting practices of the meat-packing industry consists of a two-pronged attack. First, he details the lack of sanitation in the factories in order to garner sympathy for the wage laborers who must work there. But the real impact of his exposé lies in his portrayal of the practice of selling diseased and rotten meat to the American public. Sinclair wants the reader to identify with the immigrant laborer through their victimization by the same enemy. The factory owners value their profits over the health of the workers and the public consumer.
The real-estate scam is another attack on capitalism. The agent lies when he says that the houses are “going fast” to pressure the family into acting without considering all of the conditions. The flyer advertising the houses is misleading. Moreover, the deed specifies that the house is a “rental” until it is paid for. The purpose is to make it easy to evict families when they start missing payments. With its emphasis on maximum profit, the scheme prioritizes corporate gain at the expense of the consumer. A poor family is given no leeway for missed or late payments. Instead, the family is thrown out of its home in times of financial crisis.
Tamoszius’s explanation of “graft” to Jurgis portrays capitalism as a machine that encourages and values corruption—anyone hoping to get ahead must become corrupt. Therefore, capitalism attacks the fundamental moral idea behind the American Dream, namely that hard, honest work earns its just reward. Sinclair attempts to show that, within capitalist economics, one cannot advance by means of hard work and a strong commitment to good social values. Instead, the enterprising individual must become a liar, thief, and predator to keep from being exploited.
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