The Jungle

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The Dehumanizing Evils of Capitalism Theme Analysis

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.
The Dehumanizing Evils of Capitalism Theme Icon

The Jungle was written to demonstrate the evils of the capitalist system in America. In the novel, Upton Sinclair shows the way the capitalist system exploits the working class, gives absolute power to the wealthy few, and forces individuals to act only out of self-interest, regardless of the suffering of others. The Jungle portrays the many vices and injustices that result from capitalism, including horrific working conditions, child labor, political corruption, prostitution, drinking, cheating, and crime. Workers are exposed to brutal working conditions where they suffer exhaustion, injury, bodily harm, and death. In order to survive, individuals must compete for these horrendous jobs, send their children to work, and prostitute themselves. Under the capitalist system, cheating and dishonesty become the norm. Crooked real estate agents sell "new" homes, merchants sell medicine and food doctored up with chemicals, and politicians buy votes.

Capitalism forces even well-intentioned people to become unfeeling and cutthroat and to prey on others in order to survive. For example, when Jurgis first arrives in America, he tries to make it as an honest worker at the meatpacking plant. After being continually beaten down, he starts drinking, leaves his remaining family, turns to crime, and later returns to the meatpacking plants where he works for corrupt politicians and as a scab during a strike. Throughout the book, capitalism has a dehumanizing effect, turning men into animals or machines to be used for profit.

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The Dehumanizing Evils of Capitalism Quotes in The Jungle

Below you will find the important quotes in The Jungle related to the theme of The Dehumanizing Evils of Capitalism.
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.


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They use everything about the hog except the squeal.

Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to the meatpacking plant's methods: it takes live animals and turns them into household products: the hair is used for brushes, the skin for lampshades, the meat for eating, etc. The real horror of the meatpacking plant is its capitalistic efficiency: governed by the law of maximizing profits, the owners of the plant have used their ingenuity to build machines that turn the pig from a living animal into a series of products. As we come to recognize, the plant's owners also use their machines and their business to turn human beings--their workers--into similar objects to be exploited and then thrown away.

It's worth thinking more closely about the notion of "using everything but the scream." Sinclair's point seems to be that factories conceal the true brutality of their methods: consumers have no idea that live pigs are brutally killed, or that workers are horribly exploited. By writing his book, Sinclair hopes to reveal "the scream" to his readers.

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

As in a flash of lightning they saw themselves—victims of a relentless fate, cornered, trapped, in the grip of destruction.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus, Ona Lukoszaite, Marija Berczynskas, Teta Elzbieta Lukoszaite
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Jurgis and Ona's dreams come crashing down on them. They've come to American with the naive confidence that their determination and confidence will lead them to success. Here, they realize that the opposite is true: their confidence has blinded them to the realities of their new life, and no amount of willpower can change their "fate." People have cheated them and driven them into horrible debt, and neither one of them is likely to get a good job now.

The passage is especially horrifying because Ona and Jurgis came to America precisely to avoid events like the ones they've just faced. They came to America to get a "clean slate." Now that they're in America, deep in debt, they know of nowhere they can go--they're stuck here for life.

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 14 Quotes

With one member trimming beef in a cannery, and another working in a sausage factory, the family had a first-hand knowledge of the great majority of Packingtown swindles. For it was the custom, as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be used for anything else, either to can it or else to chop it up into sausage. With what had been told them by Jonas, who had worked in the pickle rooms, they could now study the whole of the spoiled-meat industry on the inside, and read a new and grim meaning into that old Packingtown jest—that they use everything of the pig except the squeal.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus, Ona Lukoszaite, Marija Berczynskas, Teta Elzbieta Lukoszaite, Jonas
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

By this point in the novel, Jurgis's family is working in a variety of different industries, all concerned with processing or selling meat in some way. Because they work in different meatpacking capacities, the family is able to see how disgusting most meat sold to the public really is: how unsanitary the factories are, and how much disease is spread by the dirtiness of the plants.

The passage reinforces the family's disillusionment with America and American industry. At first, Jurgis was amused when the factory owners told him that their facilities used every part of the pig except the squeal. As we now realize, the factory's boast is true--because businessmen are so devoted to efficiency, they sacrifice all morality and hygiene. What initially seemed like a good policy for a factory turns out to be a subtle admission of its disgusting, slave-like conditions.

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 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.

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.

Chapter 28 Quotes

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 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.