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.
Labor Rights and Socialism Theme Icon

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.

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Labor Rights and Socialism Quotes in The Jungle

Below you will find the important quotes in The Jungle related to the theme of Labor Rights and Socialism.
Chapter 20 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Jurgis tries to pull himself together--after Ona's death, he returns to the meatpacking plant where he used to work. But instead of finding work, Jurgis learns that he's been blacklisted from the plant: because he beat up Phil Connors (for abusing his wife), Connors has pulled some strings to ensure that Jurgis will never get a job in the industry again.

The passage illustrates American injustice at its most appalling. Phil Connors abused Ona for a long time, causing the family tremendous misery. Connors gets off scot-free, while Jurgis gets sent to prison and Ona dies--all because Phil is rich and American. And now Jurgis is too desperate for work to stop and realize just how outrageous his situation really is.


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Chapter 28 Quotes

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"!

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 250-251
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jurgis stumbles upon a socialist rally. Jurgis doesn't know anything about socialism, but the mood of the rally immediately impresses him: an elegant lady treats him as an equal, both touching his body and addressing him as a comrade.

The passage is remarkable because it shows a blurring of class boundaries--unlike almost everyone else in Jurgis's life, the woman doesn't look down on Jurgis because he's poor and poorly dressed. Socialism, Sinclair implies, is a utopian ideology because it respects all human beings. (In real life, Sinclair was a committed socialist who ran for political office on several occasions.)

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…

Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 255-256
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, a socialist speaker makes a rousing speech in which he sums up everything that's happened to Jurgis so far. The socialist talks about the horrors of rampant capitalism: in an unregulated capitalist society, a tiny minority of people soon control all the means of production, leaving poor workers like Jurgis to operate the factories for tiny sums of money and to be treated like animals: "beasts of burden."

The speech resonates with Jurgis because everything Jurgis has experienced in America so far revolves around the injustices of class inequality. Jurgis is a hardworking, intelligent person, but because he's a poor immigrant, he's given a low-paying, unsafe job. The socialist orator in this chapter is offering Jurgis a view of life outside the capitalist ideology--a place in which Jurgis and his peers will be (ideally) given fair wages and an easier way of life.

Chapter 29 Quotes

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!

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Sinclair shows us the transformation that Jurgis undergoes after learning about socialism. Jurgis has experienced a lot of hardship, but it's not until the previous chapter that he really sees the extent of his problem: he begins to see that America itself is a country based on an unjust system of economics. Jurgis is hard-working, but he's not compensated fairly for his hard work.

The passage is a little stagey (Sinclair's goal in The Jungle isn't just to tell a psychologically realistic story so much as it is to inspire people to join the socialist cause) as it shows Jurgis joining the ranks of the socialists. Jurgis has a cause that he's suddenly willing to fight for, and even to die for. He's newly aware that he's not alone in the world--there are millions of workers just like him. (The passage arguably shows some of the condescension implicit in Sinclair's socialist views--it's as Jurgis didn't understand how bad he had it until the friendly socialists explained it to him.)

Chapter 30 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

Jurgis gets caught up in socialist ideology very quickly. It's as if he was blind, and now can see. Previously, Jurgis focused on the details of his own life: his work, his plant, his employer, etc. Now, Jurgis is thinking globally: there's a systematic problem in the world, such that a tiny fraction of businessmen and capitalists control plants but do no actual work. By contrast, millions of workers spend long hours toiling at the factories, and make very little money. The best way to remedy the problem, Jurgis can see, is to cut out the vast majority of the money that capitalists at the top earn, and redistribute it among the proletariat who work hard.

Jurgis's political epiphany is depicted as restorative--it's as if Jurgis has found a new reason for living. In real life, Sinclair was a socialist himself, so it makes a certain amount of sense that his novel builds up to a political awakening that's depicted in explicitly socialist terms. Like many other notable political novels (Atlas Shrugged, 1984), The Jungle, one could argue, is a political tract disguised as a work of journalism/fiction--ultimately, the characters aren't quite as important as the ideas they represent.