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The Jungle

Summary

Chapters 14–17

Summary Chapters 14–17

Jurgis’s trial is a farce. Kotrina and Teta Elzbieta attend it. Phil Connor testifies that he fired Ona fairly and that Jurgis attacked him for revenge. Jurgis tells his side of the story through an interpreter, but the judge is not sympathetic. He sentences Jurgis to thirty days in prison. Jurgis begs for clemency on the ground that his family will starve if he cannot work, but the judge remains firm.

In Bridewell Prison, Jurgis and the other prisoners spend the greater portion of their time breaking stone. He writes a postcard to his family to let them know where he is. Ten days later, Stanislovas visits to tell him that he, Ona, Marija, and Teta Elzbieta have all lost their jobs and that they are unable to pay rent or buy food. Marija is suffering blood poisoning because she cut her hand at work. Ona lies in bed, crying all day. Teta Elzbieta’s sausage factory shut down. Stanislovas lost his job after a snowstorm prevented him from going to work for three days. They cannot obtain other jobs because they are too sick and weak and because Connor is scheming to prevent them from finding work. Stanislovas asks if Jurgis can help them. Jurgis has no more than fourteen cents to give. Kotrina, Stanislovas, and the children earn money selling papers. Their only other income comes from begging.

Analysis: Chapters 14–17

Packingtown is full of predators and, as they have done throughout The Jungle, these hostile forces continue to attack the family bond that unites the immigrants. Phil Connor, empowered by his criminal connections, violates the sacred marriage bond between Jurgis and Ona, one of the few things of meaning that the two still possess. The idea of powerlessness pervades this grim section; no poor person has the power to fight for him- or herself. Marija tries to fight for her full wages, only to be fired; Ona cannot afford to reject Connor’s advances because he has the power to ruin her family. The wage laborer is systematically crippled and silenced by the power structure of capitalism.

In his attack on Connor, in Chapter 15, Jurgis exhibits an animalistic fury. Sinclair compares him to a “wounded bull” and a “tiger,” and the image of Jurgis hovering over Connor with his mouth full of Connor’s blood and skin evokes the primal, bestial quality of his rage. Ironically, the factories seek this sort of unrefined animal energy in their workers, which they can channel into efficient labor. Everywhere in Packingtown, there are wage laborers who suffer from some form of permanent disfigurement directly or indirectly related to their work. In a sense, the prevalence of these disfiguring injuries is a metaphor for the butchery of human bodies—which, like animals, are slaughtered in the service of profit.

With Jurgis’s sentencing, Sinclair argues that capitalism has perverted the American justice system. Judges are bought and sold by men with power and money, giving impunity to men like Connor. Furthermore, in Jurgis’s case, the judge does not care that his ruling means the difference between starvation and survival for an entire family.

Sinclair also charges capitalism with being anti-Christian. Immigrants (both Christian and Jewish) from eastern-European countries held fast to their religious beliefs and traditions upon coming to America as a source of strength and a sense of heritage. Here, however, Jurgis is forced to spend the Christmas holidays separated from his family, and his inability to work leads to them being evicted from their home at a time of year that is traditionally festive. Jurgis’s recollection of practically drooling over food and toys in store windows on the previous Christmas pits the harsh and cruel reality of capitalism at odds with the immigrants’ fantasies. Jurgis cannot afford the store window contents; his inability to be a consumer marks his failure as a producer, according to the capitalist system.