by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle Foreignness and the 'Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
And so Jurgis became a workingman once more; and straightway he sought out his old friends, and joined the union, and began to "root" for "Scotty" Doyle. Doyle had done him a good turn once, he explained, and was really a bully chap; Doyle was a workingman himself, and would represent the workingmen—why did they want to vote for a millionaire "sheeny," and what the hell had Mike Scully ever done for them that they should back his candidates all the time? (25.113)
Even though Jurgis became a victim for frauds and crooks because he was an outsider to American culture when he first arrived in Chicago, he has no trouble (in his role as election rigger for Mike Scully) turning prejudice and hate on other people. Specifically, his target is the Democratic candidate for office, whom he calls a "sheeny" – an anti-Semitic term for a Jewish person. He doesn't even care about this guy or what he has done. He is being paid to win the election for the Republican candidate, and he will use any tools he has to cast doubt on the Democrat's qualifications for office. Do you feel that this kind of electioneering resembles our election process today? How does Jurgis's experiences with behind-the-scenes politics differ from or coincide with your understanding of how the American political scene works today?
As very few of the better class of workingmen could be got for such work, these specimens of the new American hero contained an assortment of the criminals and thugs of the city, besides Negroes and the lowest foreigners – Greeks, Romanians, Sicilians, and Slovaks. They had been attracted more by the prospect of disorder than by the big wages; and they made the night hideous with singing and carousing, and only went to sleep when the time came for them to get up to work. (26.30)
Sinclair is obviously being sarcastic when he uses the term "new American hero" to describe workers coming in from outside the city to work at the stockyards while a general strike is on. By working even though a strike has been called, these workers (also called "scabs") are making it impossible for the unions to gain leverage over their abusive employers. What's really offensive about Sinclair's disdainful description of these strike-breakers is how racialized it is.
Sinclair wants to rouse the reader's feeling against workers who would willingly keep working while a strike is on. So, to make the reader hate these workers, he dismisses them as "attracted more by the prospect of disorder than by the big wages." In other words, according to Sinclair, these guys just want to fight and drink; they're not here because they need the money (which seems unlikely). Sinclair also plays on the prejudices of his reading audience by emphasizing that these guys are African Americans and "the lowest foreigners" (whatever that means). We are supposed to mistrust these workers because of their race or national origin. So, Sinclair is playing on racial stereotypes to make his readers identify with the striking workers and not with the men who have come in to replace them.
As a point of historical fact, the employers during Chicago's real-life stockyard strikes in 1904 played on exactly these racial tensions between black and white workers to undermine the strike. When their largely white work crews left their jobs to picket, the meatpacking factory owners brought African-American workers to replace them. This fanned the flames of antagonism between the two groups and made it difficult for the unions to organize workers across racial lines (source). So, Sinclair totally falls for the trick the employers were counting on: he also attaches racial prejudice to these new workers, which makes it impossible for him to consider them as laborers suffering under the same capitalist constraints that anyone else in The Jungle must face. Sinclair's Socialism is no protection against enduring racial prejudice.
There are seventeen in this place, and nine different countries among them. In some places you might find even more. We have half a dozen French girls—I suppose it's because the madame speaks the language. French girls are bad, too, the worst of all, except for the Japanese. There's a place next door that's full of Japanese women, but I wouldn't live in the same house with one of them. (28.16)
Marija is telling Jurgis all about her life in her brothel in this scene. At the brothel, all of the girls are known by their national origins. She herself goes by the new nickname 'Lithuanian Mary.' What's interesting about this particular quote is that all of these prostitutes have been horribly treated and forced into this life. But even though they have been so badly used by exploitative hustlers, Marija still maintains her racial prejudice. How can she say that "French girls are bad" and that she "wouldn't live in the same house" with a Japanese woman when they are all together in this misery? As with the example of the stockyard strike above, racism is another factor keeping these prostitutes from organizing together and escaping their exploitative madams.