| Quote #10
The finishing of pants did not take much skill, and anybody could learn it, and so the pay was forever getting less. That was the competitive wage system; and if Jurgis wanted to understand what Socialism was, it was there he had best begin. The workers were dependent upon a job to exist from day to day, and so they bid against each other, and no man could get more than the lowest man would consent to work for. And thus the mass of the people were always in a life-and-death struggle with poverty. That was "competition," so far as it concerned the wage-earner, the man who had only his labor to sell; to those on top, the exploiters, it appeared very differently, of course – there were few of them, and they could combine and dominate, and their power would be unbreakable. And so all over the world two classes were forming, with an unbridged chasm between them – the capitalist class, with its enormous fortunes, and the proletariat, bound into slavery by unseen chains. The latter were a thousand to one in numbers, but they were ignorant and helpless, and they would remain at the mercy of their exploiters until they were organized—until they had become "class-conscious." (29.24)
This is the most straightforward summary of Sinclair's socialism in practically the whole book. We've got the worker alienated from his labor ("the man who had only his labor to sell"; check out our note on quote #6 above); the idea of socialism as a world struggle ("all over the world two classes were forming"); and the concept of "class-consciousness," an awareness of oneself as belonging to a larger social collective based on status. Here is where the novel seems to drop any pretense that it is fiction; it is really blurring the boundaries between fiction and philosophy. As a reader, how do you respond to this change of tone? How effective do you find Sinclair's lobbying efforts for socialism at the end of The Jungle?