Study Guide

The Jungle Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

  • It's 4:00 PM, the wedding ceremony is over, and the reception is beginning.
  • It's Chicago at the turn of the century, and all of the people involved in this celebration are working class.
  • Most of the men labor in the Chicago stockyards – the giant slaughterhouses where cattle farmed in the Midwest became the meat people ate on the east coast.
  • This reception has been organized by the cousin of the bride, Marija Berczynskas.
  • But it's not exactly a reception sin the American sense of the word: it's a veselija, a Lithuanian celebration where all are welcome to come eat and drink as much as they can.
  • The bride is Ona Lukoszaite, a tiny girl of fifteen; her new husband is a large, gentle fellow called Jurgis Rudkus.
  • They are holding their veselija at a rented saloon, where a genius violinist and his less gifted buddies are playing a mixture of Lithuanian and American hits.
  • Everyone is drinking and dancing up a storm – and there's also plenty of food, believe you me.
  • The kitchen is filled with activity as Marija Berczynskas keeps the food moving out to the tables to make sure it all gets eaten.
  • Ona is so excited that she can scarcely eat or drink.
  • The violinist, Tamoszius Kuszleika, appears before her as though asking her to sing, but Ona is too nervous to respond.
  • Her cousin Marija pipes up: it's a tragic song about lost love in untranslated Lithuanian, but we've found the English (thank you, Google!): "Good-bye to my dear flower,/ Good-bye to my good fortune,/ I see God has willed for me/ To suffer alone on this earth."
  • The father of the groom, Antanas Rudkus, stands up to make a speech. It's rather dark, because Antanas thinks he is going to die soon.
  • Everyone suddenly feels gloomy, so a guest, Jokubas Szedvilas, speaks up in congratulations for the bride and groom. The party cheers up again.
  • As we survey the guests at the party, we can see a real generation gap: the older generation folks have all kept up the clothing of the old country, Lithuania. But the younger generation are wearing American styles and machine-sewn clothes (rather than hand-made).
  • Many couples dance together all night: Alena Jasaityte dances with Juozas Raczius, her fiancé.
  • And Jadvyga Marcinkus dances with Mikolas, also her fiancé. The two have been engaged for five years. Mikolas's father is an alcoholic and Mikolas is the only other man of the family, so he has to support his sisters. He and Jadvyga are having trouble finding the money to get married.
  • Mikolas is also suffering from work-related injuries that make it hard for him to earn money: he is a beef-boner, which means he must handle the knives to cut meat away from the bone of the animal. Even though Mikolas is skilled at his job, he has to work so fast that sometimes, his knives slip. Because the knives are filthy, they cause persistent infections, so these cuts never really heal.
  • Marija Berczynskas, Teta Elzbieta (Ona's stepmother), and the newlywed's families are pleased that they have arranged this veselija. At the same time, it has cost them a lot of scratch.
  • Part of the point of these celebrations is that people come with money or gifts for the newlyweds, which partly offset the cost of holding a veselija.
  • But this new generation of American-raised Lithuanians doesn't respect the old ways. Lots of people come, eat, and leave without bringing any gifts or payment.
  • Those who do bring payment are often so poor that they can't really afford much.
  • Jurgis hears all of these worries and promises that it will be all right: he will work harder, and they'll figure something out.
  • Everyone is exhausted – it's 3:00 AM – and the party is starting to break up.
  • They've been drinking all night, but they all still need to go to work the next morning.
  • This includes poor Ona, who asked for one unpaid day off after her wedding. Her bosses at Brown's meatpacking plant refused.
  • Jurgis picks her up and carries her out of the saloon.
  • He tells her not to worry: she won't go to work the next day.
  • Ona tells him that's impossible. If she skips work, they'll be ruined.
  • Jurgis reassures her and tells her to leave it to him: "I will earn more money – I will work harder" (1.41).

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