Study Guide

The Jungle Chapter 13

By Upton Sinclair

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Chapter 13

  • Teta Elzbieta's youngest child, a three-year-old boy named Kristoforas, suddenly dies.
  • He was born with a congenital hip problem that made it impossible for him to walk.
  • (By the way, we also learn about the last Lukoszaite child: Juozapas, the second youngest boy, who is also disabled – he has only one leg because of a bad accident.)
  • None of the family is really sorry about Kristoforas's death except for his mother.
  • She has to beg her neighbors for the money to give him the kind of burial he would have gotten back in Lithuania.
  • Jurgis has been looking for work all of this time.
  • Finally, he realizes that he has no other choice: he has to go to look for work at Durham's fertilizer plant.
  • The reason that this is a last resort is that the fertilizer plant is unbelievably unhealthy for its workers: they labor underground processing the bones of cattle and inhaling the fine dust this stuff sends into the air.
  • The problem with inhaling this dust is that it is loaded with phosphates. Phosphorus is necessary for bone development (which is why it's found in the bones of cattle carcasses), but as with any mineral, too much is a bad idea. For one thing, phosphates (which are phosphorus salts) often carry traces of heavy metals that build up in the body and become toxic. Excessive phosphates by themselves can cause kidney failure in people. So, this is not stuff that you want to be inhaling all day, every day.
  • This dust causes certain sickness and death, but Jurgis has no choice.
  • He is, eventually, hired at the fertilizer plant.
  • His job is to shovel fertilizer into carts.
  • He spends much of his working day totally covered in animal byproducts.
  • Jurgis can barely stand by the end of the day. He can only stagger home. He is so sick that he doesn't even notice how much the smell of his body is freaking out the people around him.
  • Jurgis has so much fertilizer in him that he can't just wash it off – he is sweating it out, as well.
  • At the dinner table, the smell of him makes his family vomit.
  • Still, Jurgis keeps going back to the fertilizer plant, and soon he doesn't notice the smell anymore. The constant headaches don't stop, though.
  • They manage to put aside some more money in the summer.
  • Vilimas and Nikalojus have picked up bad habits in their paperboy jobs – they speak tons of English slang, and they're starting to get to know Chicago's criminal underworld.
  • So the family decides that the two boys will go back to school in fall and Teta Elzbieta will go out to work. Kotrina, the only girl (besides Ona, her half-sister), will stay behind and look after the house.
  • Kotrina is only thirteen, but she now has full care of the house, Antanas, and Juozapas. She has to do all the cooking and cleaning for everyone.
  • Teta Elzbieta finds a job making sausage. She has a lot of trouble at first with headaches because she has to stand basically motionless the entire day running these sausage machines.
  • It's another assembly line system, in which several people prepare the casing and then wait for the ground meat to come through a spout to fill the casing. Then, a woman ties off these long snakes of sausage into smaller links.
  • It's endlessly repetitive, tedious work, but they have to do it to support their families.

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