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.
The Immigrant Experience and Disillusionment ThemeTracker
The Immigrant Experience and Disillusionment 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.
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.
It was dreadful that an accident of this sort, that no man can help, should have meant such suffering.
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.
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.
"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.