Study Guide

Madame Haupt Hebamme in The Jungle

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Madame Haupt Hebamme

Madame Haupt Hebamme is a midwife. Sinclair describes her as a Dutchwoman, but "Dutch" and "German" used to be interchangeable back in the day. We think Madame Haupt is probably German, given that "Hebamme" is German for midwife and "Haupt" is also German for boss or top person. So "Madame Haupt Hebamme" isn't so much a name as it is a title: "Madame Head Midwife." The fact that she doesn't have a name is significant, because it dehumanizes her character. She's one of the few people in the novel who doesn't go by a real name – even Phil Connor and Miss Henderson get names. She is also quite inhuman as a figure: in addition to being dirty, selfish, and greedy, she is also utterly unfeeling.

Madame Haupt has to be bribed and bullied into coming to see Ona, even though Jurgis emphasizes that Ona is dying. She tells Jurgis almost by accident that his second baby has died. Madame Haupt is also not gentle about breaking the news that Ona will soon pass away. The first thing that she tells him after giving Jurgis this awful information is that it's not her fault, it's Jurgis's fault – he should have gone for a doctor, and he should have done it earlier. Madame Haupt feels no hesitation about kicking Jurgis when he is down.

Madame Haupt's extremely negative depiction may well be based on realities of unscrupulous midwives operating in Packingtown at the turn of the twentieth century. But we think there may also be something else going on here. Even though Sinclair disapproves of the uses to which modern technology are put by the meatpacking industry, he still seems to approve of science as a category or ideal. In fact, Dr. Schliemann gets really excited about the rational socialist possibilities of science for creating a better future. One part of this new science is medicine. When Antanas is born, Jurgis insists that the family call in a "man-doctor," a member of the official medical establishment, rather than a midwife, and Antanas is healthy.

Then, when Jurgis is desperate and brings in a cut-rate midwife with black teeth and greasy clothes, the baby and the mother both die. Medicine equals cleanliness, modernity, and progress, while midwives (in this novel) equal dirt and primitivism. Perhaps the strong contrast between "man-doctors" (good) and midwives (bad) is another manifestation of Sinclair's particular politics. (We would also just like to say, we definitely do not share Sinclair's views on midwives. The whole idea that natural birth must be dirty, unhygienic, or unsafe is very much a product of Sinclair's time. Just our two cents!)

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