The Jungle traces Jurgis' journey from naïveté about the workings of capitalism to awareness of his position as an exploited worker and the workings of the capitalist machine. At first, Jurgis doesn't understand the discontent of other workers or the need for unions or workers' rights. He gradually becomes aware of the injustices in the meatpacking plant, and joins the union, only to realize that the union is corrupt and ineffective. Beaten down by repeated hardship, injustice, and cruelty, he becomes desensitized and hopeless and thinks only of self-preservation. Near the end of the book, when Jurgis's hope is nearly gone and he is barely able to survive, he has a conversion experience in a public hall, when he hears an impassioned speaker preach about the plight of the working class. Jurgis goes on to devote himself to the socialist cause. Sinclair was a socialist and his belief in socialism as a an alternative to and a way to combat the evils of capitalism are on strong display in the novel, particularly in the last few chapters of the book. The novel acts as an extended argument for the need for socialism, and it ends on a hopeful note by suggesting the possibility of political and social change.
Labor Rights and Socialism ThemeTracker
Labor Rights and Socialism Quotes in The Jungle
Out in the saloons the men could tell him all about the meaning of it; they gazed at him with pitying eyes—poor devil, he was blacklisted!...He was condemned and sentenced, without trial and without appeal; he could never work for the packers again—he could not even clean cattle pens or drive a truck in any place where they controlled.
And then suddenly came a voice in his ear, a woman's voice, gentle and sweet, "If you would try to listen, comrade, perhaps you would be interested."
Jurgis was more startled by that than he would have been by the touch of a policeman. He still kept his eyes fixed ahead, and did not stir; but his heart gave a great leap. Comrade! Who was it that called him "comrade"?
He waited long, long; and at last, when he was sure that he was no longer watched, he stole a glance out of the corner of his eyes at the woman who sat beside him. She was young and beautiful; she wore fine clothes, and was what is called a "lady." And she called him "comrade"!
There are a million people, men and women and children, who share the curse of the wage-slave…There are a thousand…who are the masters of these slaves, who own their toil…They own not merely the labor of society, they have bought the governments; and everywhere they use their raped and stolen power to intrench themselves in their privileges, to dig wider and deeper the channels through which the river of profits flows to them!—And you, workingmen, workingmen! You have been brought up to it, you plod on like beasts of burden, thinking only of the day and its pain…
Even if he were to suffer as he had before, even if he were to beg and starve, nothing would be the same to him; he would understand it, and bear it. He would no longer be the sport of circumstances, he would be a man, with a will and a purpose; he would have something to fight for, something to die for, if need be!
It was all so painfully obvious to Jurgis! It was so incomprehensible how a man could fail to see it! Here were all the opportunities of the country, the land, and the buildings upon the land, the railroads, the mines, the factories, and the stores, all in the hands of a few private individuals, called capitalists, for whom the people were obliged to work for wages…And was it not plain that if the people cut off the share of those who merely "owned," the share of those who worked would be much greater?…and yet there were people who could not see it, who would argue about everything else in the world.