Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Warming to the subject, Tamoszius went on to explain the situation. Here was Durham's, for instance, owned by a man who was trying to make as much money out of it as he could, and did not care in the least how he did it; and underneath him, ranged in ranks and grades like an army, were managers and superintendents and foremen, each one driving the man next below him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible. And all the men of the same rank were pitted against each other; the accounts of each were kept separately, and every man lived in terror of losing his job, if another made a better record than he. So from top to bottom the place was simply a seething caldron of jealousies and hatreds. (5.13)
Here, Tamoszius Kuszleika is outlining a uniquely capitalist class system. This system is based on money rather than on aristocratic blood (although of course, if you're born into a wealthy family, you still have a leg up on everybody else). Do you recognize this class system Kuszleika describes? Do you think it is an accurate portrayal of America's economic divisions? Must competition between workers or businesses inevitably mean "driving the man next below him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible"? Is there a more benevolent way of looking at the American class system?
Then he set some one else at a different job, and showed the lad how to place a lard can every time the empty arm of the remorseless machine came to him; and so was decided the place in the universe of little Stanislovas, and his destiny till the end of his days. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, it was fated that he should stand upon a certain square foot of floor from seven in the morning until noon, and again from half-past twelve till half-past five, making never a motion and thinking never a thought, save for the setting of lard cans. […] And for this, at the end of the week, he would carry home three dollars to his family, being his pay at the rate of five cents per hour – just about his proper share of the total earnings of the million and three-quarters of children who are now engaged in earning their livings in the United States. (6.27)
As soon as the family starts to hit choppy economic waters, Jurgis sends thirteen-year-old Stanislovas out to find a job. Once Stanislovas joins the laboring work force, he has no chance to rise in the American class system: "it [is] fated" that he will keep working in factories until the end of his days. Yet, we see other examples (e.g. Jack Duane) of men who are educated but who also cannot get ahead. In Sinclair's incredibly dark view of American society, can education truly make an individual's life better? If Stanislovas had not been forced into child labor, how might his future (as the son of poor immigrants living in the slums) truly have been different?
A poor devil of a bookkeeper who had been working in Durham's for twenty years at a salary of six dollars a week, and might work there for twenty more and do no better, would yet consider himself a gentleman, as far removed as the poles from the most skilled worker on the killing beds; he would dress differently, and live in another part of the town, and come to work at a different hour of the day, and in every way make sure that he never rubbed elbows with a laboring man. Perhaps this was due to the repulsiveness of the work; at any rate, the people who worked with their hands were a class apart, and were made to feel it. (10.6)
Sinclair is identifying a certain stigma or prejudice that seems to attach to manual laborers. Even if a factory worker makes more money than a bookkeeper, the bookkeeper will still think he is better than the other guy. Why? Do you still think this prejudice attaches to guys who work with their hands? How would this change if Sinclair's vision of a socialist future came into being?