Study Guide

The Jungle Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

  • Jurgis reports for work at 7:00 AM the next morning.
  • He is so new to this whole working thing (and, we guess, to basic thinking) that, since he was told to report at the door, he doesn't go inside.
  • He waits for two hours at the Brown's factory door.
  • His boss only discovers Jurgis waiting at the door when he goes out to find another employee, since it appears that Jurgis hasn't shown up for work.
  • The boss yells at Jurgis, but Jurgis doesn't understand English, so none of it sinks in.
  • Then the boss leads Jurgis to his new duties on the slaughterhouse killing floors.
  • The boss hands Jurgis a "besom" (4.1) – the kind of broom you see witches riding in old movies, with a bunch of thin sticks tied to a long wooden handle.
  • Jurgis is supposed to take this broom and sweep up the slaughtered cattle's guts into a trapdoor in the floor, to keep them out of the way.
  • Even though this job is disgusting, Jurgis is so excited to be employed that he doesn't even care.
  • He is delighted that he has worked a ten hour day (not counting the two hours waiting outside the factory door) and made a whole buck fifty! Now, before you go thinking that a dollar fifty was a huge fortune in 1906, even then, it would've been worth about $34.00 (source). This means that Jurgis is getting paid about $3.40 per hour during this 10-hour work day – almost three dollars per hour less than current New York minimum wage.
  • When Jurgis gets home, he finds that Teta Elzbieta's brother Jonas has also apparently been given a job.
  • Marija Berczynskas has also found work painting ads on sealed cans of smoked beef.
  • So everyone is psyched: three people in the family have work, and Jurgis thinks that will be enough to keep Teta Elzbieta and Ona at home to keep house.
  • Jurgis wants his father (the sixty-year-old Antanas) to be able to rest, too.
  • But, unfortunately, they need his potential paycheck.
  • Antanas also insists that he needs a job. Sadly, though, none of the meatpacking plants will employ anyone elderly.
  • During the day, Jurgis finds a sign translated into Polish, German, and, most importantly, Lithuanian. This sign advertises homes for sale. Jurgis gets really excited and brings the sign home with him.
  • He shows the ad to his family and suggests that they should buy a house.
  • Ona (who can actually read – Jurgis only figures out the sign's contents by asking a buddy of his at work) explains further: apparently, the total cost of the house would be $1,500. But they only need to pay $300 up front. After that, they would keep paying $12 to pay down their mortgage.
  • They can't find an apartment for less than $9 a month, so it's not like $12 is so much more. Sure, it seems expensive, but there are twelve of them, and they have to think of the future.
  • The family talks it over: if they pool together all of their savings, they could come up with the first payment. For the rest of it, they have jobs, right? Their futures are secure, right? Right? (If you guys are not observing the dark clouds of doom hovering over this family as they make this decision, trust us, Upton Sinclair is putting the "shadow" in "foreshadowing.")
  • Marija, Ona, and Teta Elzbieta all go the next day to look at an example of the kind of house they are hoping to buy.
  • The agent gives them a hard sell: he says that the company is about to close down, so they have to make their decision right now. They'll never see such low, low prices anywhere else.
  • Availability is also a problem: with such cheap houses and so many buyers to choose from, the agent isn't even sure they have one left. Act now, or regret it forever!
  • So, they decide to act now and agree to look at one of the agent's unsold lots later in the week, when the menfolk are off work.
  • Meanwhile, Jurgis is working his butt off and clearing $1.75 a day.
  • Ona looks at Jurgis, Marija, and Jonas's wages and figures that they'll be able to make their house payments and leave $70.00 per month to feed and clothe their family of twelve. (Seventy dollars for twelve people. Even in 1906, that's pretty darn meager.)
  • So, on Sunday morning, the whole family troops off to see their new house.
  • The agent who meets them talks quickly and keeps them from asking too many questions about the property or the neighborhood.
  • They are all a little disappointed in the actual house, which doesn't much resemble the model home Teta Elzbieta, Ona, and Marija saw earlier in the week.
  • None of the family want to appear ungrateful to the agent, so they don't express their unhappiness over the fact that neither the basement nor the attic are finished rooms. What's more, the neighborhood seems empty and poorly kept – nothing like the bustling neighborhood the agent led them to believe they would enjoy.
  • Even though they want to show their appreciation to the agent, even this family isn't naive enough to put their money down right away.
  • They struggle with this huge home purchase for almost a week before Jurgis finally decides they have to take the risk.
  • They know they should look at other houses, but they don't have any idea where to begin looking for houses for sale.
  • So they tell the agent they're ready to make a deal.
  • Jokubas Szedvilas offers to accompany "the women" (Ona and Teta Elzbieta) to the deed signing the next day; Jurgis can't come because he has to work.
  • Everyone is quite frightened, because they are worried about being cheated.
  • Jokubas Szedvilas begins to read the deed. He gets confused because the contract is in legalese – not in plain English. Still, Jokubas can't help but notice that the contract uses the term rental.
  • It seems as though what they're actually signing is not a property deed, but a rental contract.
  • If they keep renting the house for eight years and four months, then they will own it.
  • Teta Elzbieta totally freaks out and protests that they can't sign such an agreement.
  • The agent brings in a lawyer to back him up. The lawyer examines the contract and says everything is on the up and up, but Teta Elzbieta can't be sure the agent's lawyer can be trusted.
  • Jokubas asks the agent and the lawyer question after question, clarifying that he is not cheating them and that this really is a property deed. And then Jokubas turns to Teta Elzbieta and asks what she wants to do.
  • Teta Elzbieta takes out the money and lays it on the table. They take the deed, but no one feels happy about it.
  • When they all gather in the evening and show Jurgis the deed, he is furious. He is sure they have been cheated.
  • Jurgis rushes to Jokubas's house to ask his help to find another lawyer to see if they can break the contract.
  • Jokubas brings them to a lawyer.
  • This second lawyer agrees that everything is in order. This language about "rentals" is just a formal legal thing that makes it easier for the agent's company to evict them if they stop paying their monthly fees. But as long as they keep paying (again, ominous shadows of doom here) the house will be theirs.
  • Jurgis is so relieved that he pays the lawyer's fees without any hesitation.
  • When he rushes home, he finds everyone in the household freaking out: they had all believed that Jurgis was going off to murder the agent.
  • Even though it seems that all is OK now, Ona and Teta Elzbieta's nerves are running so high that they cry all night long.

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