by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle Suffering Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
You would smile, perhaps, to see [Jadvyga and Mikolas dancing together] – but you would not smile if you knew all the story. This is the fifth year, now, that Jadvyga has been engaged to Mikolas, and her heart is sick. They would have been married in the beginning, only Mikolas has a father who is drunk all day, and he is the only other man in a large family. Even so they might have managed it (for Mikolas is a skilled man) but for cruel accidents which have almost taken the heart out of them. He is a beef-boner, and that is a dangerous trade, especially when you are on piecework and trying to earn a bride. Your hands are slippery, and your knife is slippery, and you are toiling like mad, when somebody happens to speak to you, or you strike a bone. Then your hand slips up on the blade, and there is a fearful gash. And that would not be so bad, only for the deadly contagion. The cut may heal, but you never can tell. (1.23)
The Jungle exposes multiple aspects of the cost of poor working conditions in Chicago. The fact that Mikolas has injured himself on the job does not just affect him. It also matters to his "large family," which relies only on Mikolas for support. And what about poor Jadvyga, who has been waiting for five years to get married? There is no such thing as individual suffering in this novel. Personal problems always wind up affecting a whole network of people.
There were groups of cattle being driven to the chutes, which were roadways about fifteen feet wide, raised high above the pens. In these chutes the stream of animals was continuous; it was quite uncanny to watch them, pressing on to their fate, all unsuspicious a very river of death. Our friends were not poetical, and the sight suggested to them no metaphors of human destiny; they thought only of the wonderful efficiency of it all. The chutes into which the hogs went climbed high up – to the very top of the distant buildings; and Jokubas explained that the hogs went up by the power of their own legs, and then their weight carried them back through all the processes necessary to make them into pork. (3.24)
This statement that "Our friends were not poetical, and the sight [of these cattle going to the killing floor] suggested to them no metaphors of human destiny" makes human destiny like a pink elephant in the room. Even though Jurgis and his family aren't making any parallels between their own lives and the cattle soon to be slaughtered, the fact that they specifically are not thinking such thoughts means that we are. In this early scene of watching the pigs and cattle suffer in these slaughterhouses, Sinclair quite explicitly foreshadows that Jurgis and his family are similarly doomed.
Still, it's also worth noting that the narrator takes such a distant view from Jurgis and his family – they "were not poetical," but presumably the narrator is, since he's drawing out these "metaphors of human destiny." How different would The Jungle be in terms of tone if it were told from the first person?
[Jurgis] could not hear it often enough; he could not ask with enough variations. Yes, they had bought the house, they had really bought it. It belonged to them, they had only to pay the money and it would be all right. Then Jurgis covered his face with his hands, for there were tears in his eyes, and he felt like a fool. But he had had such a horrible fright; strong man as he was, it left him almost too weak to stand up. (4.28)
When Jurgis walks confidently into the slaughterhouse to demand a job in the early chapters of the novel, he has total faith in his physical strength. He believes that he is beyond suffering. What he doesn't know is that all of these social setbacks – the terms on which they have "bought" their house, the taxes they have to pay, the expenses of getting doctors for Jurgis's ankle and Ona's childbirth – are going to wear him down. Jurgis becomes "almost too weak to stand up" from fear that the realtor has cheated his family; his physical strength is not enough to hold off his emotional suffering.