by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle Poverty Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
But they had come to a new country, where everything was different, including the food. They had always been accustomed to eat a great deal of smoked sausage, and how could they know that what they bought in America was not the same – that its color was made by chemicals, and its smoky flavor by more chemicals, and that it was full of "potato flour" besides? Potato flour is the waste of potato after the starch and alcohol have been extracted; it has no more food value than so much wood, and as its use as a food adulterant is a penal offense in Europe, thousands of tons of it are shipped to America every year. It was amazing what quantities of food such as this were needed every day, by eleven hungry persons. (11.19)
One ongoing problem in food production is so-called "empty calories," foods that have no nutritional value but lots of calories. The thing is, many of these foods are delicious (yum, French fries!), but they don't give your body the minerals and vitamins you need to survive. So even though Jurgis and his family are stuffing down smoked sausage that they think will sustain them, these products are basically sausage-shaped links of nothing. There is no content there to support their dietary needs. Similar charges have been made against fast food chain restaurants in documentaries like Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me or Robert Kenner's Food, Inc. We guess that you could call films like these the grandchildren of The Jungle, but with different political agendas.
[Vilimas and Nikolajus] would get on a car when the conductor was not looking, and hide in the crowd; and three times out of four he would not ask for their fares, either not seeing them, or thinking they had already paid; or if he did ask, they would hunt through their pockets, and then begin to cry, and either have their fares paid by some kind old lady, or else try the trick again on a new car. All this was fair play, they felt. Whose fault was it that at the hours when workingmen were going to their work and back, the cars were so crowded that the conductors could not collect all the fares? And besides, the companies were thieves, people said – had stolen all their franchises with the help of scoundrelly politicians! (12.9)
There is a sense in which it is inevitable that the younger children of this family are going to take to crime. There is no one at home to teach them otherwise and they are as filled with bitterness and resentment at their poverty as their elders are. Vilimas and Nikolajus start out stealing rides on streetcars, but it is implied by the end of the novel that they have just become generally bad kids. What responsibility do Jurgis and Teta Elzbieta bear for what has happened to Vilimas and Nikolajus? Is there anything they could have done differently, given their difficult circumstances, that would have kept the boys from becoming wild lawbreakers?
Many of these professional mendicants had comfortable homes, and families, and thousands of dollars in the bank; some of them had retired upon their earnings, and gone into the business of fitting out and doctoring others, or working children at the trade. There were some who had both their arms bound tightly to their sides, and padded stumps in their sleeves, and a sick child hired to carry a cup for them. There were some who had no legs, and pushed themselves upon a wheeled platform—some who had been favored with blindness, and were led by pretty little dogs. (23.34)
This is a common argument made about homeless people, that they are professional beggars and that they make tons of money asking for pennies on the streets. In Sinclair's world of capitalism, even beggars are in a competition, so a lot of these people exaggerate their difficulties to make the most cash they can. Jurgis is outclassed as a beggar because he is just an ordinary guy. Still, do you think that this is an accurate representation of beggars on the streets? Are they truly professionals with "comfortable homes, and families, and thousands of dollars in the bank"? What is your perception of why people beg on the streets?