by Upton Sinclair
Analysis: Three-Act Plot Analysis
For a three-act plot analysis, put on your screenwriter’s hat. Moviemakers know the formula well: at the end of Act One, the main character is drawn in completely to a conflict. During Act Two, she is farthest away from her goals. At the end of Act Three, the story is resolved.
The Jungle starts with a wedding scene. Jurgis promises Ona that he will take care of her – he just has to work harder. The book then backtracks to Lithuania and the family's decision to travel to America to seek their fortunes. Yet the true initial situation of the novel is this moment when Jurgis looks at Ona and decides that his goal in life is to build a home with her. Jurgis believes that, if he just tries hard, he can get ahead at the meatpacking factory. He will make enough money to provide for all of Ona and their future children's needs. How can a young, strong man fail to provide for his family?
The second act of a plot is when everything is as far from resolution as it possibly can be. At first, Jurgis assumes that, through hard work, he can settle down and build a real family with his new wife, Ona. All of Jurgis's hopes for the future are destroyed through a series of steps: first, he tears a tendon in his leg on the job and cannot earn any money for three months. This leaves the family in a financially tough spot. Then, poor Ona, whose health has been delicate ever since the birth of her first child, starts to get weaker and weaker. Jurgis discovers that she has been raped and intimidated by her boss. Jurgis gets thrown in jail for attacking said boss. He has to serve a thirty-day sentence. With this additional loss of Jurgis's income, the family can't make their house payments. They are evicted from their home, and Ona and Baby Antanas both die in short order. All of Jurgis's faith that he can provide for his family through honest work in the meatpacking factories falls apart, and he appears to have no future left.
In Act III, all of the troubles of the book get solved. In The Jungle, society is still not perfect, so some problems remain: Teta Elzbieta is growing ill, her surviving sons have gotten rowdy and uncontrollable from their life on the streets, and Marija has become a drug-addicted prostitute. Still, after despairing entirely of American society, Jurgis has found new hope for the future in his conversion to Socialism. He believes that, even if his own family life is ruined, at least he is part of a movement that is larger than himself. Socialism has shown Jurgis a brighter future for all the working men of the world, if not for Jurgis personally.