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Stories of local setting: In The Jungle

The Jungle cover
The Jungle cover

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposes the antagonistic world of capitalism, and especially as it is seen through the experiences of immigrant workers.

The novel, set in the heart of the city of Chicago, tells about immigrants from Lithuania looking for what every immigrant is looking for: The Great American Dream. The main characters Jurgis Rudkus and Ona Lukoszaite struggle to get jobs and make a living for themselves, which are under harsh conditions as they learn that great American dream does not mean showing up and living like royalty.

In the beginning of the novel Jurgis and Ona first come to Chicago accompanied by many family members in celebration of their wedding and are holding a feast in part of the city known as “Packingtown.” Packington was the immigration center for people like them, but little did they know what living and working there would actually entail. Jurgis and Ona are hit with their first culture shock at their own wedding feast. In Lithuanian culture, it is custom for wedding guests to leave money for the couple to help over the cost of renting space for the party. The guests, however, as poor as ever do not do this and leave the couple in debt to the bar owner. Despite this Jurgis develops some hope and optimism and declares that he will work hard to gain this money.

Jurgis as well as various other family members find work, especially after they realize how much housing in even the poorest location and home would cost them. The work is physically demanding with very little safety or security for the workers. Throughout their struggles to earn what very little wage they receive they continue with poverty, illness,isolation and debt.

The Jungle centers on the theme of the “American Dream” that was and continues to be the belief of immigrants. The characters in the novel are brain-fed the notion that coming to America would solve all of their problems and they could live successfully and harmoniously through hard work. The way they are presented the “American Dream” concept is like they are being promised they will have better and not to mention easier lives. What Sinclair does is expose the truth of the situation through the experiences of the immigrants as they learn everything the hard and not to mention the unpleasant way that it was not how they thought it would be.

Sinclair’s naming of the novel The Jungle was a symbol to Packingtown and its residents referring to Social Darwinism and the abuse of capitalism, where everyone fought for survival and became various forms of prey for the various forms of predators. The characters not only are burdened with the physical demand to survive but also a mental and emotional one. It becomes more than just making a better living in America, it has turned into just living where the most important and hardest thing to keep up is morale.


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