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.