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The Jungle

The Jungle

by Upton Sinclair

Suffering Theme

There are people in The Jungle who try to alleviate other people's suffering. There is that settlement worker who weeps with Teta Elzbieta over her horrible family life and then gets Jurgis a job at a steel plant on the outskirts of town. There is also that doctor working on birth defects, who might have been able to help little Kristoforas had the family only known that he was looking for patients. But there are many, many more people in Chicago's slums looking for help than there are people offering it. The overall impression of suffering – both human and animal – in this book extends in so many directions that surely only a systematic overhaul of the American economic system will solve all these problems. (At least, that's what Upton Sinclair wants you to conclude, since this book is partly inviting you to become a socialist. Thus, the characters' suffering doesn't just make for moving literature. It is also a recruiting tool.)

Questions About Suffering

  1. How do Jurgis's different political views at various points in the novel affect his sympathy for other people's suffering?
  2. How do different characters in The Jungle, such as Jack Duane and Marija, explain the suffering they observe in Chicago's slums? What other political points of view besides socialism do we observe in The Jungle?
  3. What particular suffering will socialism help to solve, according to Dr. Schliemann? Specifically, how do the novel's socialist activists believe that a change of economic system will help people?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Because The Jungle makes a case for the importance of collective organizing, suffering always affects a broader network of people beyond the individual.

The economic focus of The Jungle means that all social problems, including racism, gender inequality, and anti-immigrant prejudice, are explained as a result of class difference and exploitation.

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