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.
The Dehumanizing Evils of Capitalism ThemeTracker
The Dehumanizing Evils of Capitalism Quotes in The Jungle
Had he not just gotten a job, and become a sharer in all this activity, a cog in this marvelous machine?
As in a flash of lightning they saw themselves—victims of a relentless fate, cornered, trapped, in the grip of destruction.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.