by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
So, bit by bit, the feast takes form – there is a ham and a dish of sauerkraut, boiled rice, macaroni, bologna sausages, great piles of penny buns, bowls of milk, and foaming pitchers of beer. There is also, not six feet from your back, the bar, where you may order all you please and do not have to pay for it. "Eiksz! Graicziau!" screams Marija Berczynskas, and falls to work herself – for there is more upon the stove inside that will be spoiled if it be not eaten. (1.8)
This opening scene at Jurgis and Ona's wedding feast gives us a quick introduction to the Lithuanian cultural background of our heroes. At the same time, even as Sinclair orients us in the scene ("not six feet from your back," in which we are the "you") he is also subtly implying that this culture must be unfamiliar to us. The narrator is introducing us to an immigrant world that we are, presumably, not a part of. The Jungle is not written for people who know from first-hand experience what Chicago's slums are like. It's written for people on the outside to introduce them to these experiences.
"Little one," he said, in a low voice, "do not worry – it will not matter to us. We will pay them all somehow. I will work harder." That was always what Jurgis said. Ona had grown used to it as the solution of all difficulties – "I will work harder!" He had said that in Lithuania when one official had taken his passport from him, and another had arrested him for being without it, and the two had divided a third of his belongings. He had said it again in New York, when the smooth-spoken agent had taken them in hand and made them pay such high prices, and almost prevented their leaving his place, in spite of their paying. Now he said it a third time, and Ona drew a deep breath; it was so wonderful to have a husband, just like a grown woman – and a husband who could solve all problems, and who was so big and strong! (1.34)
Jurgis's tragic statement that he "will work harder" and solve all of their problems suggests his own inability to face the reality of the huge obstacles standing in front of him. Even in this first chapter, Sinclair is outlining Jurgis's utter lack of power in this system: he has run into corrupt immigration officials both in Lithuania and New York and had no way to fight them. These problems that Jurgis and his family had even getting to Chicago foreshadow how unprepared they are to integrate into a new (and difficult) country. They are at the bottom of a class system they don't even understand or recognize.
Better luck than all this could hardly have been hoped for; there was only one of them left to seek a place. Jurgis was determined that Teta Elzbieta should stay at home to keep house, and that Ona should help her. He would not have Ona working – he was not that sort of a man, he said, and she was not that sort of a woman. It would be a strange thing if a man like him could not support the family, with the help of the board of Jonas and Marija. He would not even hear of letting the children go to work – there were schools here in America for children, Jurgis had heard, to which they could go for nothing. […] Jurgis would have it that Stanislovas should learn to speak English, and grow up to be a skilled man. (4.3)
Part of the whole promise of the American Dream is that you can give the next generation a better life than you had. At this early point in the novel, Jurgis totally buys into that. Even if he has to work his tail off to keep Teta Elzbieta and Ona in the home, he will do it. Even if he has to labor all day, every day, he will make sure that Stanislovas and the rest of the children get to go to public school. He wants to climb the American social ladder through hard work and personal sacrifice, which is the entire ideal of the American Dream. Sinclair seems utterly disenchanted with the American Dream. Under what conditions could Jurgis and his family have achieved their wishes for a better life? Is there anything they could have done differently to make Jurgis's hopes come true?