Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"I vould not put on my hat for a dollar and a quarter," she said.
"It's all I've got," he pleaded, his voice breaking. "I must get some one—my wife will die. I can't help it—I—"
Madame Haupt had put back her pork and onions on the stove. She turned to him and answered, out of the steam and noise: "Git me ten dollars cash, und so you can pay me the rest next mont'."
"I can't do it—I haven't got it!" Jurgis protested. "I tell you I have only a dollar and a quarter." (19.21-24)
This is one part of Jurgis's desperate exchange with Madame Haupt, the midwife. We find it interesting because Jurgis's accent has completely disappeared from the spelling of his dialogue. Madame Haupt's heavy German accent is carefully spelled out, though: "Git", "und," "vould," and so on. Why does Sinclair spell out Madame Haupt's accent but not Jurgis's? One reason might be that Sinclair wants to emphasize our sense of Madame Haupt's foreignness to us as readers. He doesn't want us to sympathize with Madame Haupt in this scene, but he wants us to like Jurgis. So, the dialogue makes Jurgis's speech familiar and standard while Madame Haupt sounds accented and strange.
[Jurgis] did his best, flying here and there, placing them in rows and showing them the tricks; he had never given an order in his life before, but he had taken enough of them to know, and he soon fell into the spirit of it, and roared and stormed like any old stager. He had not the most tractable pupils, however. "See hyar, boss," a big black "buck" would begin, "ef you doan' like de way Ah does dis job, you kin get somebody else to do it." Then a crowd would gather and listen, muttering threats. After the first meal nearly all the steel knives had been missing, and now every Negro had one, ground to a fine point, hidden in his boots. (26.36)
In our discussion of Madame Haupt above, we mentioned that her accent comes through very strongly in dialogue where Jurgis's has disappeared in order to make her seem less relatable or likable to the reader. Well, it seems like the same thing is going on here with this extremely stereotypical and racially derogatory depiction of an African-American man refusing to work as Jurgis has demanded. Sinclair's rendering of an African-American accent – "See hyar, boss […] ef you doan' like de way Ah …" – makes the speaker's words seem alien and foolish to the reader. Sinclair is using accents (along with racial epithets and outright negative characterization) to make these temporary workers appear unpleasant to his imagined audience. Now, these passages describing the black workers who came to the meatpacking factories in 1904 when the (largely white) stockyard unions declared a strike seem like the most dated and offensive moments in the whole novel. How can Sinclair support racialist thinking when he also believes in organizing workers collectively? Are there signs at other points in the novel that Sinclair is trying to work against racial or national prejudices?
[Jurgis] waited long, long; and at last, when he was sure that he was no longer watched, he stole a glance out of the corner of his eyes at the woman who sat beside him. She was young and beautiful; she wore fine clothes, and was what is called a "lady." And she called him "comrade"! (28.44)
When Jurgis goes to his first Socialist Party meeting, he enters the building looking for a warm place to sit. He is not paying attention to the speaker at all. It is only when his neighbor – this well-dressed lady – nudges him and calls him comrade that Jurgis really starts to pay attention. All it takes is one respectful word from someone who appears highly placed in society to change all of Jurgis's bitterness and resistance to politics. Does this idealism about the power of language in the socialist context seem in keeping with other criticisms of language we find earlier in the novel? Does the style of these final few chapters change with the different, more openly political content, or does each part of The Jungle show stylistic uniformity?