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.
The Immigrant Experience and Disillusionment Theme Icon

The Jungle tells the story of one Lithuanian family's journey to America to seek a better life and their subsequent disillusionment and downfall. When the Rudkus family first arrive, they are naively hopeful about their prospects in America and have domestic dreams of owning a home, marrying, and having children. Once they arrive, their dreams are cruelly and consistently squashed. Ona and the children must go to work, family members (including children) die as a result of brutal working conditions, and the family is cheated into signing a lease on a home, which they eventually lose. The optimism and determination of the Rudkus family is contrasted with the harshness of their lives, and their dreams are replaced by a struggle for survival. Through their experience, Sinclair shows how immigrants are used as cogs in the capitalist machine. They are lured to America with false promises of a better life, and instead they are ruthlessly exploited as laborers or sold into prostitution.

Despite unendurable hardship, cultural community, traditions, and memories play an important role in the Rudkus family's life and offer rare instances of hope. The novel opens with the scene of a typical Lithuanian wedding celebration, showing a rare moment of joviality and humanity. When Jurgis journeys out of the city to the country, he experiences fond memories of his native land. Memories of the old country create a bitter contrast with the characters' current lives, but also offer an escape from present conditions.

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The Immigrant Experience and Disillusionment Quotes in The Jungle

Below you will find the important quotes in The Jungle related to the theme of The Immigrant Experience and Disillusionment.
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 2 Quotes

All the sordid suggestions of the place were gone—in the twilight it was a vision of power.

Related Symbols: Packingtown
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Ona and Jurgis survey their new neighborhood, "Packingtown," which is near a big meatpacking plant, a staple of American industry at the time. Ona and Jurgis have had plenty of hardship so far, but they maintain their optimistic spirit: they believe that America will allow them to find good jobs and thrive. As they look at the meatpacking plant, they don't think about its horrible smell or ugly appearance--all they can think about is prosperity and power. Sinclair also shows how the dim light of evening erases all the "sordid suggestions" of the place, making it seem more appealing--perhaps a metaphor for how the obscuring of the realities of the meat industry and immigrant life allowed most Americans to live in blissful ignorance of atrocities.

From the reader's perspective, it's pretty clear that the meatpacking plant won't bring its workers prosperity of any kind; it'll just chew them up and spit them out for profit. The passage uses dramatic irony--an asymmetry between what the readers know and what the characters know--to create suspense and tragedy.

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

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.

Chapter 7 Quotes

The great corporation which employed you lied to you, and lied to the whole country; from top to bottom it was nothing but one gigantic lie.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

As the chapter begins, Jurgis and his family have taken a dark view of the country they live in. America is said to be the land of opportunity--but when Jurgis finds it, it's a terrifying, chaotic land, in which a small minority thrive while the vast majority of society--immigrants, minorities, etc.--have to work hard. (Some things never change...)

Jurgis and his family aren't quite at the point where they're prepared to take political action against their own country, but they're starting to see the full magnitude of their misfortune. It's not just that one corporation swindled Jurgis: it's the fact that Jurgis lives in an entire country where swindling is celebrated and immigrants are unfairly demonized. Jurgis's awareness of the scope of his problem is the first step toward a solution.

Chapter 8 Quotes

He forgot how he himself had been blind, a short time ago—after the fashion of all crusaders since the original ones, who set out to spread the gospel of Brotherhood by force of arms.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Jurgis becomes a convert to the workers' causes: he joins a union in the hopes that political action will improve his lot in life. Jurgis believes that a union will improve his bargaining power and give him--along with his fellow workers--better hours and wages. Furthermore, he recognizes that not too long ago, he had no idea what a union was. (In Europe at the time, unions were even more taboo than they were in the U.S.--union workers were regularly attacked by the army and the police.)

The passage depicts Jurgis as a crusader of the modern era, organizing his brothers--his fellow workers--against the evils of unrestricted capitalism and big business. Sinclair adds a thoroughly religious flavor to the passage, suggesting the vital importance of Jurgis's work as a union organizer--but also his tendency towards optimism and over-idealizing things.

Chapter 9 Quotes

The officials who ruled it, and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes.

Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jurgis becomes more politically engaged, he becomes more away of the harsh realities of voting. Jurgis has a "choice"--he can choose between multiple candidates--and yet each one of these candidates is basically the same. All politicians in the country, at least the ones that Jurgis is aware of, are frauds: they pretend to care about their constituents, but in reality they're just trying to get themselves reelected by "buying votes"--bribing people to vote a certain way, or encouraging them to change their votes by giving them food and shelter.

The realities of American politics make Jurgis's situation look especially hopeless--at first, he thought that he could turn to politics to improve his situation. But now it becomes clear that Jurgis doesn't really have anyone who'll listen to him: American politicians don't care about his problems.

Chapter 11 Quotes

It was dreadful that an accident of this sort, that no man can help, should have meant such suffering.

Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Jurgis sprains his ankle during his work at the factory. Through no real fault of his own (as Sinclair says, anyone can sprain their ankle), Jurgis is plunged into financial ruin: he's dismissed from his job without pay (why should the factory pay someone who can't work?) and forced to survive without any other source of income.

Sinclair allows the injustice of Jurgis's situation to sink in. Because he's been working at an unsafe plant, he hurts himself. And yet when Jurgis injures himself, the factory throws him out instead of apologizing and offering him pay. The horror of the situation is that the factory knows exactly what it's doing: morality aside, it has no financial reason to take care of an injured worker when it can always just discard and replace him.

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 25 Quotes

It seemed monstrous to him that policemen and judges should esteem his word as nothing in comparison with the bartender's—poor Jurgis could not know that the owner of the saloon paid five dollars each week to the policeman alone for Sunday privileges and general favors—nor that the pugilist bartender was one of the most trusted henchmen of the Democratic leader of the district, and had helped only a few months before to hustle out a record-breaking vote as a testimonial to the magistrate, who had been made the target of odious kid-gloved reformers.

Related Characters: Jurgis Rudkus
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

Jurgis has received a hundred-dollar bill, and then been cheated out of it by a treacherous bartender. Jurgis is outraged that the bartender could steal from him without punishment--and yet when Jurgis appears in court, the bartender wins the case by lying. Jurgis doesn't realize it, but the bartender gets off because he's well-connected: he's cooperated with corrupt politicians and policemen in the past, and now the politicians have rewarded him.

The passage illustrates the extent of corruption in American industry. The justice system doesn't care that Jurgis is "right" and the bartender is "wrong." The fact is that the bartender is better-connected than Jurgis, and therefore he can steal with impunity. It's as if everyone in the country is somehow connected to power through corruption and bribery--the bartender, for instance, is connected to the top politicians in the city. Only Jurgis is out of the loop, and therefore, he's sent to jail.

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.