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Quotes

Quote #10

"Looks like a lot, hey?" said Master Freddie, fumbling with it. "Fool you, though, ole chappie—they're all little ones! I'll be busted in one week more, sure thing—word of honor. An' not a cent more till the first—hic—guv'ner's orders—hic—not a cent, by Harry! Nuff to set a feller crazy, it is. I sent him a cable, this af'noon—thass one reason more why I'm goin' home. 'Hangin' on the verge of starvation,' I says—'for the honor of the family—hic—sen' me some bread. Hunger will compel me to join you—Freddie." (24.25)

"Master Freddie" is Freddie Jones, the son of one of the meatpacking magnates of Chicago. He has so much money that he can carry it around in a huge wad, yet he still thinks it's not enough. He has sent his father a message saying that he is "on the verge of starvation" and needs more money – and he actually dares to say this to Jurgis, who really is on the edge of starvation! Freddie's troubles actually indicate a larger economic point about "relative needs." We all have basic needs – food, shelter, clean water, and so on. But once you get into a complex economy, you also have relative needs that allow you to stay competitive. So, if you're a rich guy and you want to do business with other rich guys, you need that snappy suit that marks your social status and economic standing.

Freddie Jones is a victim of relative needs: since he has grown accustomed to a certain standard of living, it becomes hard to adjust that standard downwards even if his dad is trying to keep him on a tight allowance. Jurgis encounters a similar difficulty when he becomes homeless again after being a boss in one of the factories. Even though he has been poor before, it seems worse because he has gotten used to being pretty well-off.

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