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.
Family, Masculinity, and Individualism ThemeTracker
Family, Masculinity, and Individualism Quotes in The Jungle
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.
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.
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—
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!
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.
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.
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!
"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.