Visions of America Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
There were hardened criminals and innocent men too poor to give bail; old men, and boys literally not yet in their teens. They were the drainage of the great festering ulcer of society […] Into this wild-beast tangle these men had been born without their consent, they had taken part in it because they could not help it; that they were in jail was no disgrace to them, for the game had never been fair, the dice were loaded. They were swindlers and thieves of pennies and dimes, and they had been trapped and put out of the way by the swindlers and thieves of millions of dollars. (17.40)
In Jurgis's first visit to jail, he finds a bunch of thieves and evildoers. They are also the product of the society they live in ("the great festering ulcer of society," as Sinclair puts it so revoltingly). After all, these are the guys who get caught for petty crimes. To Sinclair, though, the entire system of capitalism is a crime, in which rich businessmen steal money and cheat the little guy.
All day long this man would toil thus, his whole being centered upon the purpose of making twenty-three instead of twenty-two and a half cents an hour; and then his product would be reckoned up by the census taker, and jubilant captains of industry would boast of it in their banquet halls, telling how our workers are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country. If we are the greatest nation the sun ever shone upon, it would seem to be mainly because we have been able to goad our wage-earners to this pitch of frenzy; though there are a few other things that are great among us including our drink-bill, which is a billion and a quarter of dollars a year, and doubling itself every decade. (20.41)
Competition keeps American workers laboring incredibly hard for profits that the "captains of industry" collect. Of course, this claim that American workers "are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country" has really changed over the twentieth century. We have outsourced many of our manufacturing jobs to other, poorer nations, where people are willing to work harder for less money. What do you think Sinclair's response to current labor and economic practices in the United States? Would he see higher salaries and more social benefits as a sufficient solution to what he saw as the problems of capitalism?
Excepting for that one walk when he left jail, when he was too much worried to notice anything, and for a few times that he had rested in the city parks in the winter time when he was out of work, he had literally never seen a tree! And now he felt like a bird lifted up and borne away upon a gale; he stopped and stared at each new sight of wonder—at a herd of cows, and a meadow full of daisies, at hedgerows set thick with June roses, at little birds singing in the trees. (22.16)
At last, Jurgis gets out of the city. After Baby Antanas dies, Jurgis walks straight out of town and into a pleasant summer landscape. Up until this point, we had completely forgotten that the United States has a countryside, The Jungle seems so dominated by urban landscapes. At the same time, even this pleasant scene of "meadow[s[ full of daisies" and "hedgerows set thick with June roses" is not a real alternative to the hell of Packingtown. There is still no permanent work for Jurgis here, even if the environment is more pleasant.