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Quotes

Quote #1

So in the summer time they had all set out for America. At the last moment there joined them Marija Berczynskas, who was a cousin of Ona's. Marija was an orphan, and had worked since childhood for a rich farmer of Vilna, who beat her regularly. It was only at the age of twenty that it had occurred to Marija to try her strength, when she had risen up and nearly murdered the man, and then come away. (2.8)

Oppression and brutality: it's not just for capitalism anymore. Marija comes to America to escape the unfairness of her working situation back in Lithuania. So it makes it even more unjust that what she finds in America – the Land of Opportunity – is more subtle and pervasive exploitation.

Quote #2

Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory. (3.32)

Perhaps the worst part of the oppression of Jurgis and other workers like him – here symbolized by hogs going to the slaughter – is that it goes largely unnoticed. There is no direct expression of power or statement from a single dictator or tyrant that makes Jurgis miserable. It's a much larger, systematic, widely distributed kind of power: the entire structure of the American economy is at fault, and how can you hope to remedy that?

Quote #3

Before the carcass was admitted here, however, it had to pass a government inspector, who sat in the doorway and felt of the glands in the neck for tuberculosis. This government inspector did not have the manner of a man who was worked to death; he was apparently not haunted by a fear that the hog might get by him before he had finished his testing. If you were a sociable person, he was quite willing to enter into conversation with you, and to explain to you the deadly nature of the ptomaines which are found in tubercular pork; and while he was talking with you you could hardly be so ungrateful as to notice that a dozen carcasses were passing him untouched. This inspector wore a blue uniform, with brass buttons, and he gave an atmosphere of authority to the scene, and, as it were, put the stamp of official approval upon the things which were done in Durham's. (3.35)

Sinclair maintains a lot of anger at the close relationship between business and the government in the United States. This means that regulations against poor hygiene or child labor are never appropriately enforced in this novel; government inspectors are always ineffective and not interested in their duties. Yet, much later in the book, the socialists put their faith in successful elections of their candidates to solve many of the problems Sinclair is pointing out. Why does Sinclair have faith that socialist city council members would not be susceptible to bribery? Why does he assume that socialist government inspectors would be uniformly competent? Perhaps Sinclair is overestimating human nature in his idealism.

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