Foreignness and the 'Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Z. GRAIEZUNAS, PASILINKSMINIMAMS DARZAS. VYNAS. SZNAPSAS. WINES AND LIQUOURS. UNION HEADQUARTERS" – that was the way the signs ran. The reader, who perhaps has never held much converse in the language of far-off Lithuania, will be glad of the explanation that the place was the rear room of a saloon in that part of Chicago known as "back of the yards." This information is definite and suited to the matter of fact; but how pitifully inadequate it would have seemed to one who understood that it was also the supreme hour of ecstasy in the life of one of God's gentlest creatures, the scene of the wedding feast and the joy-transfiguration of little Ona Lukoszaite! (1.3)
"The reader" – that's us. This passage comes right at the beginning of the novel, and it's definitely establishing the reader in a certain position in relation to the characters of the novel. The reader "has never held much converse in the language of far-off Lithuania." So we are assumed to be totally unfamiliar with Lithuanian language and probably culture. Similarly, we are supposed to be ignorant of "back of the yards" Chicago. So we are at a distance from these characters; they are foreign to us. The job of the novel is to introduce us to this unfamiliar terrain, to provide the "explanation" for which we "will be glad." While the whole point of an exposé is to unveil things that are hidden to the general public, you could also argue that the distance the narrator establishes between the reader and the characters makes it harder to feel personally moved by their stories.
It was one of the laws of the veselija that no one goes hungry; and, while a rule made in the forests of Lithuania is hard to apply in the stockyards district of Chicago, with its quarter of a million inhabitants, still they did their best, and the children who ran in from the street, and even the dogs, went out again happier. A charming informality was one of the characteristics of this celebration. The men wore their hats, or, if they wished, they took them off, and their coats with them; they ate when and where they pleased, and moved as often as they pleased. There were to be speeches and singing, but no one had to listen who did not care to; if he wished, meantime, to speak or sing himself, he was perfectly free. (1.6)
It's interesting that Sinclair starts the novel with Ona and Jurgis's wedding feast before going back in time to their origins in Lithuania and their initial introduction to Chicago. This is the only chapter in the book that is chronologically out of order with the rest of Jurgis's story. Why might Sinclair begin The Jungle with this spectacle of the veselija? What tone does he use to describe this celebration? How might the novel have been different if we just began with the family back in Lithuania?
And this was the fact, for Jurgis had never seen a city, and scarcely even a fair-sized town, until he had set out to make his fortune in the world and earn his right to Ona. His father, and his father's father before him, and as many ancestors back as legend could go, had lived in that part of Lithuania known as Brelovicz, the Imperial Forest. This is a great tract of a hundred thousand acres, which from time immemorial has been a hunting preserve of the nobility. There are a very few peasants settled in it, holding title from ancient times; and one of these was Antanas Rudkus, who had been reared himself, and had reared his children in turn, upon half a dozen acres of cleared land in the midst of a wilderness. (2.3)
Not only is Jurgis from a place that is assumed to be foreign to us – Lithuania – but Jurgis himself is unfamiliar with the things we take for granted, such as American cities and towns. In other words, Jurgis's foreignness in American society goes both ways: Americans are ignorant of his ways and he is baffled by America.