The Jungle

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Themes and Colors
The Dehumanizing Evils of Capitalism Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The Horrors of the Meatpacking Industry Theme Icon
Family, Masculinity, and Individualism Theme Icon
Labor Rights and Socialism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Jungle, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family, Masculinity, and Individualism Theme Icon

The Jungle shows how capitalism ruptures family ties and forces individuals to think only of self preservation. As the novel progresses, ideals of home, domesticity, and romantic love are steadily crushed. In the beginning, the Rudkus family live in one home together, but over the course of the book, they gradually die or disperse. After Jurgis's wife Ona dies during childbirth and his son Antanas drowns in the street, Jurgis leaves his family and heads out on his own for the country. Jurgis becomes a tramp, roaming the country and thinking only of himself. Back in the city, he becomes a criminal, preying on others in order to survive. Sinclair shows how the capitalist system makes it almost impossible to preserve a family. The only characters who attain a modicum of freedom are those who leave their families behind.

Sinclair also shows how the capitalist system compromises masculinity. In the beginning of the book, Jurgis is the picture of masculinity: strong, determined, hard-working and energetic. His masculinity is tied to a sense of pride and a belief that he can support his family through hard work. As the book continues, Jurgis faces more and more hardships and is slowly beaten down, losing his masculine prowess and his ability to support and protect his family. His masculinity is also compromised when he finds out that his wife Ona has been forced to become the mistress of her boss Connor in order to save her job. Jurgis violently retaliates by attacking Connor in a futile effort to recover his lost masculine power.

Though capitalism deeply threatens family ties, family continues to provide some measure of support and resistance to the deadly effects of capitalism. Near, the end of the novel, Jurgis is reunited with his cousin-in-law Marija, who is working as a prostitute and is able to help Jurgis survive. Jurgis also finds alternative types of family throughout the book—first through the criminal community in Chicago, and later through the comrades he makes through socialism.

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Family, Masculinity, and Individualism Quotes in The Jungle

Below you will find the important quotes in The Jungle related to the theme of Family, Masculinity, and Individualism.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Bit by bit these poor people have given up everything else; but to this they cling with all the power of their souls—they cannot give up the veselija! To do that would mean, not merely to be defeated, but to acknowledge defeat—and the difference between these two things is what keeps the world going.

Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel begins, Sinclair depicts a young immigrant couple that's poor and hungry, but happy. The couple, Ona and Jurgis, are recent transplants to the United States, and they've attempted to bring their culture--Lithuanian culture--with them to their new home. Sinclair depicts Ona and Jurgis as embodiments of the American dream; the possibility that foreigners can come to America, make a living, and still represent the place they came from.

Sinclair is a harsh realist, but he's also something of a romantic, at least for now. Ona and Jurgis will endure a great deal of hardship in the pages to come, but Sinclair maintains that as long as they keep their spirits up, they'll be fine. The power of the human will, as we'll come to see, is easily underrated--the businesses and communities of America will try to crush the immigrants' spirits.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

Had he not just gotten a job, and become a sharer in all this activity, a cog in this marvelous machine?

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jurgis has gotten a job at Durham's meatpacking plant. He's overjoyed with his success: he thinks he's on the road to finding prosperity in America. Jurgis has no idea that the meatpacking plant is a nightmarish place to work, with dangerous conditions and horrible worker policies. In part, Jurgis doesn't realize the truth because his new employers have hidden it from him; in part, though, he's blind to reality, because he's so optimistic.

Jurgis's dark future is clear in the passage, which describes him as a cog in a machine. It's pretty apparent that being a cog in a machine isn't anything to be happy about: a cog is a tiny, meaningless part, which can be replaced and destroyed at any time. Sure enough, Jurgis will be exploited for his body until the day he can't work any longer--and then he'll be thrown away like a piece of trash.

Chapter 5 Quotes

When he came home that night he was in a very somber mood, having begun to see at last how those might be right who laughed at him for his faith in America.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

It doesn't take long for Jurgis to see through the facade of employment at the slaughterhouse: at first, he seems to enjoy his work, but soon enough he realizes the truth. The meatpacking plant is unhygienic, dangerous, and inhumane: Jurgis is holding his own for now, but he seems to sense that at some point, he could seriously injure himself.

It's worth asking why, exactly, Jurgis didn't realize the truth about the meatpacking plant earlier. In part, Jurgis's employers lied to him about the realities of his job; at the same time, Jurgis himself is to blame. He's been so optimistic about life in America that he's ignored all those Lithuanians who warned him about the dangers of his new life. Now, Jurgis is realizing that he should have listened.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Then he set someone else at a different job, and showed the lad how to place a lard can every time the remorseless machine came to him; and so was decided the place in the universe of little Stanislovas, and his destiny till the end of his days.

Related Characters: Stanislovas Lukoszaite
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

The great tragedy--though also the great strength--of the Lithuanian immigrants in the novel is that they're bound to each other by blood. When one of them is in debt, the other ones have to work harder to support him. Thus, when Ona and Jurgis fall behind on their payments, Ona's brother Stanislovas has to go to work at the factory alongside Jurgin. Stanislovas is still a kid--not even old enough to work legally--but because of his family situation his life changes overnight.

The immigrants in the novel stick together at all costs--other than family, they have nothing to live for. Stanislovas may not fully understand his obligations to his siblings and parents, but he will.

Chapter 15 Quotes

It was all—it was their plot—Miss Henderson's plot. She hated me. And [Phil Connor]—he wanted me. He used to speak to me—out on the platform. Then he began to—to make love to me. He offered me money. He begged me—he said he loved me. Then he threatened me. He knew all about us, he knew we would starve. He knew your boss—he knew Marija's. He would hound us to death, he said—then he said if I would—if I —we would all of us be sure of work—always. Then one day he caught hold of me—he would not let go—he—he—

Related Characters: Ona Lukoszaite (speaker), Jurgis Rudkus, Ona Lukoszaite, Marija Berczynskas, Phil Connor, Miss Henderson
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jurgis learns some unpleasant truths about his family. His wife, Ona, has been sleeping with her boss, Phil Connor, a powerful businessman. Connor knows that Ona is married, but he forces her to spend time with him by claiming that he can ensure that Ona's entire family will remain employed, and threatening to have them all fired if she rejects him. Connor is extremely abusive to Ona, but she feels that she has no choice: she'll take care of her family by any means necessary, even it means betraying her husband and sacrificing her own bodily autonomy and dignity.

The passage illustrates the full extent of the immigrants' misery. The factory owns the workers' labor, 16 hours a day. For women like Ona, businessmen like Connor control their sexuality, too. Terrified of poverty, people like Ona are forced to bargain with their bodies--they know of no other way to survive.

Chapter 16 Quotes

They put him in a place where the snow could not beat in, where the cold could not eat through his bones; they brought him food and drink—why, in the name of heaven, if they must punish him, did they not put his family in jail and leave him outside—why could they find no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six helpless children to starve and freeze? That was their law, that was their justice!

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus, Ona Lukoszaite, Marija Berczynskas, Teta Elzbieta Lukoszaite, Antanas Rudkus
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Jurgis is thrown in jail for beating up Phil Connor, the businessman who's been abusing his wife in return for keeping the family employed. Jurgis is furious when he realizes that, all things considered, jail isn't such a bad place to be: he's warm and dry, and he gets food and water. Jurgis wonders why his wife and children haven't been sent to jail in his place--surely such an arrangement would be more "just" than their current situation.

The passage underscores the social injustices of Jurgis's world. On the surface of things, it's the "right" thing to send Jurgis to jail for violence. And yet courts can only go so far in enforcing justice: the lawmen who send Jurgis to jail know nothing of his starving wife, Connor's corruption, etc. Society's idea of justice is, it must be said, unjust.

Chapter 19 Quotes

The word rang through him like the sound of a bell, echoing in the far depths of him, making forgotten chords to vibrate, old shadowy fears to stir—fears of the dark, fears of the void, fears of annihilation. She was dead! She was dead! …An icy horror of loneliness seized him; he saw himself standing apart and watching all the world fade away from him—a world of shadows, of fickle dreams.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus, Ona Lukoszaite
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

In this heartbreaking scene, Ona dies in childbirth. Jurgis, Ona's beloved husband, is distraught by her death. Because of the rampant poverty among immigrants America, and the incompetence of American healthcare, Ona doesn't get the care she needs, and she dies a slow, bloody death.

In the broader scheme of things, Ona's death signals the end of a certain part of the family's time in America. Up to now, Jurgis and Ona have been a team, even when they've been fighting. Jurgis and Ona traveled to America to seek fortune together. Without a wife, Jurgis has no path in life anymore--as a result, he falls further into alcoholism and depression.

Chapter 21 Quotes

The little fellow was now really the one delight that Jurgis had in the world—his one hope, his one victory…He was a terrible child to manage, was Antanas, but his father did not mind that —he would watch him and smile to himself with satisfaction. The more of a fighter he was the better—he would need to fight before he got through.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus, Antanas Rudkus
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

Jurgis doesn't have his beloved wife, Ona, anymore, but he continues to turn to his family for love and support. Jurgis's reason for living is now his little son, Antanas. Antanas is a tough child--he's bad all the time, and needs a lot of attention. But Jurgis doesn't mind in the least--he loves Antanas unconditionally, and clings to him as his last "delight" in life. Furthermore, Jurgis seems to respect Antanas for being so wild: he recognizes that Antanas's spirit might help him succeed later on.

The passage is inspiring insofar as it shows Jurgis getting over his depression and finding a new reason to live. Immigrants like Jurgis endure a great deal of hardship, especially in the kinds of situations Sinclair describes, but Jurgis finds the strength to carry on. (As we soon learn, however, Jurgis's newfound confidence in his family is short-lived.)

Chapter 22 Quotes

On the contrary, try as he would, Jurgis could not help being made miserable by his conscience. It was the ghost that would not down. It would come upon him in the most unexpected places— sometimes it fairly drove him to drink… Ah, what agony was that, what despair, when the tomb of memory was rent open and the ghosts of his old life came forth to scourge him!

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Jurgis has just learned of a horrible tragedy: his beloved child, Antanas, has drowned in the rain. At this point, Jurgis decides to avoid the obvious pitfalls of going to the saloon and drowning his sorrows. Unlike so many people, Jurgis doesn't turn to drugs or alcohol in times of sadness (at least this particular time), as he recognizes that drinking will only make his life more miserable.

Here Jurgis adopts a "coping strategy" that's both more powerful and more callous. Instead of remaining with his relatives and drinking heavily, he turns his back on his community altogether, and hops a train out of town. In his despair he tries to forget about the past completely: Ona, Antanas, etc. In short, Jurgis tries to wipe the slate clean, but with mixed success.

Chapter 27 Quotes

"When people are starving," the other continued, "and they have anything with a price, they ought to sell it, I say. I guess you realize it now when it's too late. Ona could have taken care of us all, in the beginning." Marija spoke without emotion, as one who had come to regard things from the business point of view.

Related Characters: Marija Berczynskas (speaker), Ona Lukoszaite
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Jurgis reunites with his cousin-in-law, Marija. Marija is working as a prostitute, and seems to no longer feel any moral qualms about doing so: her philosophy is survive by any means necessary, or die. Marija adds that Jurgis "overreacted" in beating up Phil Connors for abusing his wife--he should have swallowed his pride and allowed Ona to continue having sex with Phil, so that the family could survive, thanks to Phil's influence.

Marija is advocating for horrible things, but her words only come from a place of total despair and dehumanization--she speaks "without emotion," as someone totally broken by a system of power, corruption, and abuse. She has sold the last thing she had--her very body--and so sees any other choice as a kind of luxury.