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The Jungle

The Jungle


by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle Chapter 5 Summary

READ THE BOOK: Chapter 5
  • They've bought their house, so now they need to find some furniture to put in it.
  • They've only got three days before their deal with Mrs. Jukniene is over, so they have to get right to it.
  • Luckily, Packingtown is papered with advertisements for pretty much everything in the world.
  • One of these ads offers all the furniture you could need to fill a four-room space (That's what their new house is. Twelve-person family. Four rooms. So, even in this comparative luxury, it's still going to be at least three people to a room, which is better than the 50 or 60 in the tenement buildings, but still, tight quarters).
  • This furniture comes at the low, low price of $75.00. And the absolute best part? You don't have to pay all at once! You can pay a down payment and then a few dollars a month.
  • So they decide that they need furniture, they're really poor right now, and this is their best bet.
  • They carry all of their new furniture, delivered to Mrs. Jukniene's apartment, to their new house by hand.
  • They all feel full of hope: Jurgis and Ona stay up late thinking happily that they can finally get married as soon as they are settled and have some money saved.
  • The dining table sits in the kitchen. The dining room is used as a bedroom for Teta Elzbieta and five of her children. Ona and Marija sleep in the living room, on a mattress they keep in another room during the day. Jonas, Jurgis, Antanas, and Stanislovas (Teta Elzbieta's oldest son) sleep in the fourth room, on the floor.
  • Jurgis is working harder than he ever has before. When he admired the machine-like precision of the slaughterhouse laborers before, he hadn't realized how physically exhausting the pace of their work really is.
  • Still, Jurgis enjoys the challenge.
  • What surprises Jurgis is that his pleasure in the work at the slaughterhouse is not popular.
  • To his amazement, he discovers that most of the men at the factory hate their work and the neighborhood they live in.
  • Jurgis can't understand it, but all of his colleagues tell him just to wait and see.
  • Jurgis also doesn't understand unions. They don't have unions where he comes from, so he doesn't get what rights for workers might mean.
  • Jurgis discovers that the unions are trying to lobby to get the factory to slow down the rate of production. It's too fast, and it's killing some of their workers.
  • Jurgis thinks this is just lazy. He knows that every man has to keep up, or he'll be left behind.
  • What's more, Jurgis will not (or cannot) pay his union dues.
  • So Jurgis absolutely refuses to unionize.
  • There's a reference to Malthus in the eleventh paragraph of this chapter. Malthus is an eighteenth-century English economist who projected that rising populations would inevitably cause more famine and disease among the lower classes. He felt that family size among poor people should be regulated by the government (source).
  • By referring to Malthus in this particular paragraph, Sinclair is making the point that plenty of people agree with Malthus's ideas on paper while still feeling personally that we should assist the starving poor with aid money.
  • Jurgis is like the guy who believes in Malthus but still thinks there should be a relief fund for starving people.
  • He talks a hard line about working people, that if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. (Still, he feels a huge amount of pity for his poor father, Antanas.)
  • Antanas has worked hard his whole life; he wants to do nothing but work.
  • But he has gone to every single packing plant and shop in Packingtown, and absolutely no one will give such an old man a job.
  • Antanas's difficulties are Jurgis's first sign that all is not perfect in America after all.
  • Jurgis grows even more suspicious when Antanas is finally offered a job.
  • A man approaches Antanas directly and asks what Antanas would pay to be employed.
  • The man wants one third of Antanas's salary if he gets Antanas a job.
  • Jurgis hears about this offer and goes to consult a friend of his from the killing floor, Tamoszius Kuszleika (you may remember him as the brilliant violinist in Chapter 1).
  • Tamoszius Kuszleika says that this is common; this guy who approached Antanas is just a go-between for a boss who is looking to make a little extra money.
  • This kind of dishonesty is built into a system in which the management, from the owner of the company right down to the foremen, are trying to make as much money as they can for themselves.
  • Jurgis is shaken by Tamoszius Kuszleika's statements, but he still doesn't believe that the system is so rotten.
  • Jurgis asks Antanas not to take this job, but Antanas is so desperate that he does it anyway.
  • Antanas's job is in a "pickle room" where meat is brined (like for canned corned beef).
  • He is a "squeedgie man," mopping up the floor.
  • Antanas quickly learns (unlike Jurgis) to loathe his job.
  • What disgusts Antanas is the filthiness of the meatpacking conditions.
  • The men in the "pickle room" lay slabs of meat in vats of brine (which is a preserving agent made out of salt and water).
  • After the men pack up their beef into trucks for delivery to the canning stations, Antanas has to mop the discarded brine into a hole in the floor.
  • There is a sink under the hole that collects this used brine so that it can be recycled for the next batch of preserved meats. (BLERG!)
  • It's recycled on and on – they never use new brine.
  • What is more, the pipe that leads from this hole in the floor to a sink in the room below also has a trap to catch refuse.
  • Antanas has to clean out this trap, which contains scraps of meat and trash.
  • But instead of throwing these odds and ends away, every few days, Antanas is supposed to shovel these filthy scraps into the trucks with the rest of the meat. (DOUBLE BLERG! Man, this novel is making us sick, which, we suppose, is the intended effect.)
  • Marija Berczynskas, meanwhile, has found out how exactly she got her job painting can labels.
  • She has made a friend at the factory, Jadvyga Marcinkus.
  • On their way home one day, Jadvyga explains that Marija took the place of an Irishwoman who had been working at the factory for over fifteen years.
  • This woman, Mary Dennis, has a son who is both disabled and epileptic. She loves him dearly, and supports him as best she can.
  • Mary is sick: she has consumption (a term for tuberculosis, a persistent and often fatal lung ailment).
  • Lately, Mary had been coughing a great deal on the job.
  • Finally, their boss, the "forelady" – a low-level manager – decided that Mary's sickness was throwing off her performance.
  • So the forelady fired her, point-blank, with no concern for how long Mary had been working at the factory or for Mary's health.
  • Jadvyga doesn't know what has happened to poor Mary Dennis or to her son.
  • Jadvyga has meant to check on Mary, but she has also been sick. She is afraid that she has gotten "womb trouble" (5.18) from all of her heavy lifting on the job.
  • Jonas has also found horrible stories at his work.
  • Jonas pushes carts loaded with hams from the smoke rooms into the packing rooms.
  • These carts are incredibly heavy once they are loaded: about a quarter of a ton.
  • Because they are so heavy, they easily go out of control.
  • Jonas has to push hard to get them started and then basically cling on as these carts hurtle across the uneven factory floor.
  • The guy who had Jonas's job before Jonas wasn't quick enough to get out of the way of an out-of-control cart once and was crushed to death against the factory wall.
  • Jurgis starts seeing some pretty horrible things at his work, too.
  • Remember, Jurgis shovels guts off the killing beds into a trapdoor in the floor.
  • Apparently, cows that are about to give birth or who have just had a calf are not edible.
  • (We asked the parent of a Shmoop staffer, who is a former dairy farmer, about this one, and he says he's never heard that this is true. But he also adds that it would be completely stupid and wasteful to kill a cow when she is just about to have another cow, so that's probably where this idea comes from.)
  • It would be perfectly easy for the meatpackers to keep these pregnant cows until they were safe to eat after their calves had been weaned.
  • But these meatpackers want nothing more than to save time and money, so they'll slaughter these pregnant cows regardless.
  • They do this even though it is against the law to process pregnant cow meat for food.
  • It's part of Jurgis's job to shovel these cows' guts – including the cattle fetuses – into that hole in the floor.
  • On the floor below the killing floor, they take these nearly viable cattle fetuses (called "slunk" calves) and butcher them for meat and even skin. (Disgusting.)
  • One day, Jurgis stays late to substitute for a guy who has injured himself on the job that day.
  • So Jurgis gets to see what goes on at the factory after official hours.
  • At night, the meatpackers secretly prepare the bodies of cattle that have been injured or died in transport – cattle that aren't supposed to be sold for food.
  • The meatpackers put these sick cattle carcasses in among the other cattle bodies to hide what they are.
READ THE BOOK: Chapter 5

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