Summary: Chapter 25
Jurgis quickly realizes that he cannot get change for a one-hundred-dollar bill without raising suspicions or being robbed. He enters a saloon to try anyway. The bartender tells Jurgis that he must buy a drink first. Jurgis agrees to have a glass of beer for five cents. The bartender takes the bill and gives him ninety-five cents in change. Realizing that he has been cheated, Jurgis furiously attacks the bartender. A policeman rushes in and drags Jurgis to jail. The judge at his trial finds Jurgis’s version of events laughable. He sentences Jurgis to ten days in jail plus costs.
Jurgis again encounters Jack Duane in Bridewell Prison. Jurgis agrees to see Duane when he gets out of jail. Jurgis listens to the other prisoners and decides that a life of crime is the best way to survive. He visits Jack at a pawnshop where he is hiding out, and Jack takes him on his first mugging. They attack a well-dressed man and steal his jewelry and wallet. Jurgis’s share is fifty-five dollars. Jurgis reads in the paper that the victim suffered a concussion and nearly froze to death while he was unconscious; he will lose three fingers to frostbite. Over time, Jurgis ceases to worry about what happens to his victims.
Through Duane, Jurgis becomes acquainted with Chicago’s criminal underground. On one outing, a watchman catches Duane breaking a safe. A policeman allows him to escape, but it causes such a scandal that Duane’s criminal associates choose to sacrifice him. Duane then flees Chicago. Meanwhile, Jurgis begins talking with Harper, a vote-buyer for the corrupt politicians of Chicago. An election is coming up, and Harper offers to let Jurgis take part in the schemes. Harper introduces him to Mike Scully, a wealthy, corrupt democrat. Scully wants Jurgis to take a job in the stockyards and join a union. Scully and the Republicans have made a pact, and Scully wants Jurgis to support a Republican candidate.
Jurgis takes a job as a hog trimmer for which he receives regular pay in addition to the fruits of political graft. He works tirelessly for the Republican candidate and, when it comes time to vote, -ushers group after group of immigrant workers through the polls. The Republican candidate is elected to office and Jurgis becomes three hundred dollars richer. He treats himself to a long drinking binge. Meanwhile, Packingtown is alive with celebration over the political victory.
Summary: Chapter 26
[T]he blazing midsummer sun beat down upon that square mile of abominations . . . rivers of hot blood and carloads of moist flesh . . .See Important Quotations Explained
Jurgis keeps his job as a hog trimmer. In May, the unions and the packers clash and a huge strike begins. Scully denounces the packers in the papers, so Jurgis asks for another job while he strikes with the rest. Scully tells him to be a scab and make as much as he can out of it. Jurgis argues for a wage of three dollars a day and receives it. The packers hire all of the thugs in the city and import scabs from all over the country, including a significant number of southern blacks.
Jurgis is offered a position as a boss on the killing beds. The packers are desperate to provide fresh meat in order to keep public opinion from turning against them. Jurgis receives a higher wage and the promise that he will have the job after the strike. Nevertheless, the packers feel pressure from the public to settle. They reach an agreement with the union, but the packers break their promise to not discriminate against union leaders. In response, the workers return to striking. During the storm of debauchery that follows, Jurgis comes face to face with Phil Connor in Packingtown. Without thinking, he viciously attacks Connor. Jurgis calls Harper from his jail cell only to discover that Connor is one of Scully’s favorites. Harper can do nothing for him except get his bail lowered so that Jurgis can pay it. He advises Jurgis to skip town. Jurgis pays his bail, which leaves him with less than four dollars, and he travels to the other end of Chicago.
Analysis: Chapters 25–26
Jurgis’s entrance into the underworld of crime demonstrates that merciless predation, thievery, and dishonesty are far better rewarded in the universe of The Jungle than commitment to fundamental American values. It also provides a look into the corruption of the justice system and the democratic political process. Jurgis makes far more money by mugging, rigging elections, and working as a scab than he did as a regular wage earner. Sinclair again ironically positions capitalism, which is generally considered to be the forum of the American Dream, as a threat to the American way. Whereas Jurgis earlier fails to achieve this dream when he submits himself wholeheartedly to the process that he believes will garner him that life for which he longs, he now succeeds by means of tactics antithetical to the values of hard work and honesty. The profits that he makes from these practices assuages his conscience, so that he cares only about himself and can completely ignore the suffering of his victims, just as the real estate agent and various foremen earlier ignore his suffering.
Jurgis heads down the road of corruption and dishonesty, and Sinclair uses the encounter with Phil Connor to illustrate that any remaining vestige of morality or desire to achieve the American Dream by honest means is pointless for Jurgis. His instinctive attack on Connor evidences a lingering sense of injustice at Connor’s rape of Ona. But though this sentiment may be somewhat noble, it only lands him in prison again, which inevitably leads to his losing all of his money again. Sinclair, thus, reasserts the worthlessness of moral values in the face of capitalism, as one cannot gain ground by clinging to such idealistic values when corruption abounds.
In particular, Sinclair focuses on the moral depredations of capitalism, especially the corrupting influence of vice among the laborers as a means of escaping the miseries of their lives. He describes the depravity and immorality that run unchecked among the scab workers in order to charge the meat packers with encouraging sinful behavior. Gambling, fighting, and prostitution run rampant in the population of scab workers. He describes how these prostitutes, criminals, and gamblers handle the meat that is sold to the American public. Sinclair equates the moral “dirtiness” of the scab workers with the literal dirtiness of the meat itself.
Sinclair’s representation of the scab workers attacks the meat packers by association. The filth and immorality of the scabs rubs off on their employers. However, the racism prevalent in turn-of-the-century white America begins to creep into Sinclair’s narrative at this stage. Many of the scab workers are black southerners, to whom Sinclair often refers as “big buck Negroes.” The black scab workers are continually described as lazy, ignorant, criminal, and self-destructive. Furthermore, he conjures images of these “big buck Negroes” rubbing elbows with white country girls, knowing that the idea of black men cavorting with white women would raise the ire of white readers. Sinclair states that their ancestors were once African savages forced into slavery; now, however, they are really “free” for the first time—“free to wreck themselves.” In his fervent attempt to rouse the reading public’s moral outrage against big capitalists, Sinclair reproduces, unfortunately, some of the most racist stereotypes against blacks.