Summary: Chapter 18

Jurgis has to stay in prison for three extra days because he lacks the money to pay the cost of his trial. When he is released, he walks twenty miles to his home in Packingtown. He discovers a new family living in his home. He visits Grandmother Majauszkiene, who informs him that his family could not pay the rent. The agent evicted them and sold the house within a week. She gives him the address of the boarding house where they stayed when they first arrived in Chicago.

Jurgis trudges off toward the old boarding house, feeling defeated and reflecting on how he and his family have been unjustly treated. As the widow stands in the open door, Jurgis hears Ona screaming, and he tears through the house. He hears her in a garret; as he is about to ascend the ladder to the garret, however, Marija tries to stop him. She tells him that the Ona’s baby is coming—Ona has gone into premature labor. Unable to stand Ona’s horrible cries, Jurgis scrounges together a dollar and a quarter from the widow and other women in her kitchen in order to get help for Ona.

Summary: Chapter 19

Jurgis runs to the apartment of a Dutch midwife, Madame Haupt, and begs her to attend to Ona. She asks for twenty-five dollars; after trying unsuccessfully to make her understand that he has neither money nor friends with money, Jurgis heads down the stairs. Madame Haupt finally agrees to go for the dollar and a quarter that Jurgis does have. Marija and the widow turn Jurgis out for the night, telling him that he will only be in the way. He goes to a saloon that he used to frequent, and the saloonkeeper provides him food, drink, and a place to rest. At four o’clock in the morning, Jurgis returns to the boardinghouse and sees Madame Haupt descend from the garret covered in blood. She informs him that the baby is dead and that Ona is dying. Jurgis rushes up to find a priest praying near the withered Ona. She recognizes him for an instant and then dies. In the morning, Kotrina appears and Jurgis demands to know where she has been. She replies that she has been out selling papers with the boys. Jurgis takes three dollars from her and proceeds to a nearby bar to get drunk.

Summary: Chapter 20

When Jurgis is sober, Teta Elzbieta begs him to remember Antanas. Jurgis rouses himself to look for work for his son’s sake if nothing else. But he soon learns that he is blacklisted in Packingtown. Phil Connor has made certain that he will never find another job there. Marija’s hand will soon be healed enough for her to return to work, however, and Teta Elzbieta has a lead on a job scrubbing floors.

After two weeks of futile searching and odd jobs, Jurgis meets an old acquaintance from his union. The man leads him to a factory where harvesting machines are produced, and the foreman gives Jurgis a job. The working conditions are much better, and the factory is a paragon of philanthropy and goodwill. Nevertheless, workers still must keep up a breakneck speed. Jurgis regains hope and begins to make plans, even studying English at night. Several days later, however, a placard at the factory informs the men who work there that Jurgis’s department will be closed until further notice.

Summary: Chapter 21

Only the children’s wages keep the family from starvation while Jurgis spends more than ten days looking for another job. Juozapas, Teta Elzbieta’s crippled child, begins to go to the local dump to find food. A rich woman finds him there and asks him about his life. Hearing of the tragedy and penury that pursues the family, she visits them at the boardinghouse. Shocked at the squalor in which they live, she resolves to find Jurgis a job. She is engaged to be married to a superintendent at a steel mill, so she writes a letter of recommendation for Jurgis. Jurgis takes the letter to the superintendent and gets himself hired.

The mill is too far for Jurgis to return to the boardinghouse during the week, so he travels home only on the weekends. He loves his son with an overwhelming devotion. Antanas’s first attempts at speech provide no end of delight to Jurgis. Jurgis begins to read the Sunday paper with the help of the children and settles in a livable routine. But he returns to the boardinghouse one day only to discover that a freak accident has occurred: Antanas has drowned in the mire of mud in the streets.

Analysis: Chapters 18–21

The narrative shape of The Jungle is extremely simple: it exposes the fallacy of the American Dream by portraying the gradual destruction of the immigrant family at the hands of the forces of capitalism. Every section, every chapter, and nearly every individual event throughout most of the book operates according to this plan. In this section, not surprisingly, the family continues to suffer greater and greater misfortunes. Their home, the symbol of family life, has been taken from them; the building looks as if the family never even lived there. Jurgis’s return to his home is a metaphor for the cyclical nature of generations of immigrants. These waves of immigrants pass through Packingtown and its misery—the only constant in their lives.

Moreover, the second- and third-generation children of earlier waves of immigrants seem to forget that their ancestors suffered the very same abuses that they now perpetrate on the newer generations of immigrants. As theories about eugenics (a science concerned with improving a specific race’s hereditary qualities) arose in the late nineteenth century, making claims about the inherent inferiority of nonwhite peoples and white peoples of certain descent, Americans became hostile toward the waves of immigrants whom they perceived as infiltrators spoiling the purity of the American people. The first waves were constituted largely of northern and western Europeans. The Irish, then, stereotyped as potato-eating drunks, were among the early targets of ridicule. With the arrival of later waves of immigrants, largely from southern and eastern Europe, these earlier immigrants sought to take advantage of these new immigrants. Phil Connor, for example, an Irishman, takes part in the abuse and degradation that, a few decades earlier, the Irish suffered at the hands of more powerful ethnic groups. Historical memory is short if not nonexistent in The Jungle.

These chapters also function as the next stage of Sinclair’s attack on capitalism. Earlier, he shows that child labor laws do nothing to stop child labor, implying that it is not possible to improve working conditions and labor practices from within the structures of capitalism. Jurgis’s job at the harvester factory expounds upon the same idea. The factory supposedly functions according to philanthropic values, and the facilities are cleaner and the working conditions more pleasant. Nevertheless, the factory shuts down periodically after the rush season just like other factories, leaving thousands of laborers without the income necessary to survive. The factory’s philanthropic values do nothing to change the essentially precarious existence of wage laborers. Again, working from within capitalism fails to provide wage laborers with a secure, decent living.

The young woman who secures Jurgis a job with her recommendation shows compassion in an otherwise cruel world. However, her actions do nothing to change the dangerous working conditions in the steel factory where her fiancé is a superintendent—Jurgis witnesses several men suffer horrendous, disabling accidents in the steel mill. Neither does her kind action make a difference in the dangerous conditions in the slums where wage laborers live. She helps Jurgis secure an income, but Antanas still drowns in the unpaved, muddy streets outside the boarding house. Through this example, Sinclair argues, pessimistically, that individual philanthropists working within the structures of capitalism are likewise ineffective at changing the lives of wage laborers for the better.