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Quotes

Quote #7

She was a "settlement worker," she explained to Elzbieta – she lived around on Ashland Avenue. Elzbieta knew the place, over a feed store; somebody had wanted her to go there, but she had not cared to, for she thought that it must have something to do with religion, and the priest did not like her to have anything to do with strange religions. They were rich people who came to live there to find out about the poor people; but what good they expected it would do them to know, one could not imagine. So spoke Elzbieta, naively, and the young lady laughed and was rather at a loss for an answer—she stood and gazed about her, and thought of a cynical remark that had been made to her, that she was standing upon the brink of the pit of hell and throwing in snowballs to lower the temperature. (21.9)

This settlement worker (in other words, a wealthy person who has come to live in poor areas to assist in poverty alleviation) has moved to the slums with good intentions. She really wants to help Teta Elzbieta and her family. First of all, though, she doesn't have access to the kind of resources it would take to save even one family, let alone everyone in the slums. Second of all, there is still a power difference here that Teta Elzbieta is very aware of: "rich people who came to live there to find out about poor people," she thinks. Still, the rich people will always be able to go home eventually. If they lose interest or fail to follow up – as appears to happen with this particular settlement worker and Teta Elzbieta – the poor people are left in the same condition they were when these settlement workers first appeared. What kinds of charities have been most successful in improving the lives of poor people? Is it possible to remedy some of the injustices of our society from within, or do huge issues like poverty require systemic change?

Quote #8

As it chanced, [Jurgis] had been hurt on a Monday, and had just paid for his last week's board and his room rent, and spent nearly all the balance of his Saturday's pay. He had less than seventy-five cents in his pockets, and a dollar and a half due him for the day's work he had done before he was hurt. He might possibly have sued the company, and got some damages for his injuries, but he did not know this, and it was not the company's business to tell him. (23.23)

Jurgis burns his hand badly working for a steel mill. Again, as with sanitation and child labor laws elsewhere in the book, there is a huge gap between laws on the books and enforcement. Jurgis is entitled to some help from the company, but he does not know this and there is no one around to tell him. This is the problem with power inequalities: people who are poor and oppressed are often too unfamiliar with legal and government systems to understand their rights.

Quote #9

The evangelist was preaching "sin and redemption," the infinite grace of God and His pardon for human frailty. He was very much in earnest, and he meant well, but Jurgis, as he listened, found his soul filled with hatred. What did he know about sin and suffering—with his smooth, black coat and his neatly starched collar, his body warm, and his belly full, and money in his pocket—and lecturing men who were struggling for their lives, men at the death grapple with the demon powers of hunger and cold!—This, of course, was unfair; but Jurgis felt that these men were out of touch with the life they discussed, that they were unfitted to solve its problems; nay, they themselves were part of the problem—they were part of the order established that was crushing men down and beating them! They were of the triumphant and insolent possessors; they had a hall, and a fire, and food and clothing and money, and so they might preach to hungry men, and the hungry men must be humble and listen! (23.30)

The Jungle is ambivalent on the subject of religion. This evangelist who is preaching to Jurgis means well, but Jurgis resents the fact that the man is talking as though he understands the struggles of the poor. How can this preacher understand when he has food and shelter, neither of which Jurgis has? Later in the novel, Mr. Lucas argues strongly that socialists should use the New Testament to bring faithful Christians to their cause. Dr. Schliemann, though, answers that church hierarchies can also be exploitative money-making machines as bad as any big corporation. This ambivalence has its roots in old school Marxist theory. Marx famously commented that, "Religion is the opiate of the people." What he meant is that religion is one way that people suffering under the yoke of economic hardship and pain try to soothe themselves. Religion allows people to bear oppression that they should not have to tolerate. In the end, though, this illusion is also preventing the people from rising up against the system that is keeping them down. So, religion is both good and bad in socialist terms; certainly, Sinclair seems unwilling to come down explicitly on one side or the other.

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