by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle Poverty Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Jurgis had come there, and thought he was going to make himself useful, and rise and become a skilled man; but he would soon find out his error – for nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good work. You could lay that down for a rule – if you met a man who was rising in Packingtown, you met a knave. That man who had been sent to Jurgis' father by the boss, he would rise; the man who told tales and spied upon his fellows would rise; but the man who minded his own business and did his work – why, they would "speed him up" till they had worn him out, and then they would throw him into the gutter. (5.14)
A "knave" is a dishonest person. So, if you're climbing your way out of poverty in Packingtown, you must be a crook. Jurgis certainly proves this saying later in the novel when he becomes a Chicago criminal. Still, do you think that this is a fair representation of American society as it affects the poor? Are there any options you can imagine to bring Jurgis or any members of his family out of poverty without breaking the law?
How could they know that the pale-blue milk that they bought around the corner was watered, and doctored with formaldehyde besides? When the children were not well at home, Teta Elzbieta would gather herbs and cure them; now she was obliged to go to the drugstore and buy extracts – and how was she to know that they were all adulterated? How could they find out that their tea and coffee, their sugar and flour, had been doctored; that their canned peas had been colored with copper salts, and their fruit jams with aniline dyes? And even if they had known it, what good would it have done them, since there was no place within miles of them where any other sort was to be had? (7.7)
One of the major, enduring struggles for the poor in this country (and any country, actually) is the problem of quality. When a person has more money, he or she can afford a better quality of food, medicine, and clothing. So his food nourishes him better and he can eat less of it to feel satisfied. People with more money also often receive better medical treatment and preventive care to avoid getting sick. When a person is poor, though, he or she cannot afford such high quality food or medicine at the outset. This also means that, over the long run, he may be spending more money on health problems that crop up from a poor diet or lack of medical care. This is a problem that Sinclair points out in The Jungle that, like many of the social issues he identifies, has yet to be solved today.
It is a kind of anguish that poets have not commonly dealt with; its very words are not admitted into the vocabulary of poets – the details of it cannot be told in polite society at all. How, for instance, could any one expect to excite sympathy among lovers of good literature by telling how a family found their home alive with vermin, and of all the suffering and inconvenience and humiliation they were put to, and the hard-earned money they spent, in efforts to get rid of them? After long hesitation and uncertainty they paid twenty-five cents for a big package of insect powder – a patent preparation which chanced to be ninety-five per cent gypsum, a harmless earth which had cost about two cents to prepare. Of course it had not the least effect, except upon a few roaches which had the misfortune to drink water after eating it, and so got their inwards set in a coating of plaster of Paris. The family, having no idea of this, and no more money to throw away, had nothing to do but give up and submit to one more misery for the rest of their days. (7.8)
Sinclair may seem to be wallowing in the details of the family's everyday miseries. Yet he's also making a statement by demanding that we pay attention to Jurgis's family's struggle with roaches, for example. These kinds of ordinary problems are what make the lives of poor people so awful – persistent roaches or bedbugs or mice are miserable to deal with if you don't have any resources. Sinclair is saying, "Hey, these problems may not seem like the stuff of poetry or literature, but they should be because they are no less horrible for being small." (That being said, we get that Sinclair is trying to have an effect on the reader, but still, Jurgis and his family are the unluckiest people in the world. Sometimes, we find that The Jungle verges on unrealistic.)