Study Guide

The Jungle Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

  • The family works all summer and, in fall, Ona and Jurgis get married.
  • And of course, after all the cleaning up after the veselija, they find that all of their new acquaintances have left them a hundred dollars in debt (the feast that they thought would pay for itself).
  • Jurgis and Ona are crushed – this seems like a terrible beginning to their married life.
  • Jurgis can't stop noticing Ona, whom he thinks is too sensitive and good for this time of life.
  • Jurgis feels that he has failed Ona, and promises himself to work harder to protect her from the awful realities of their lives.
  • There are so many things that go wrong that they have absolutely no way to plan for: Ona gets caught in the drenching rain on her way to work one day (after failing to figure out how streetcars work) so she gets sick.
  • The children of the family keep getting sick. The family has no way of knowing that there is a cesspool under their house because there is no plumbing and no sewer line leading to their home.
  • Teta Elzbieta doesn't know what kind of medicines to buy in this new place.
  • And none of them recognize that their food has unknown additives and preservatives that aren't good for them.
  • They can't find anything of quality to buy – everything is cheap and poorly made.
  • The narrator cites a (slightly misquoted) line from Matthew Arnold's poem, "Modern Sappho" (which is about love and loss).
  • But the narrator points out that the kind of pathetic, ugly troubles that come with poverty don't make it into poetry. Poets don't even have a language to talk about the struggles that face people like Jurgis and Ona.
  • And then there is Antanas. The cellar where he works is not heated, so his cough is growing worse and worse.
  • The brining chemicals have also eaten through Antanas's boots, and have given him intense sores on his feet that won't heal.
  • The men he works with tell him that he has to quit – not only will the sores never heal, but if Antanas keeps walking around barefoot in the saltpeter (potassium nitrate), his toes will drop off.
  • Antanas refuses to quit, but his body can't handle the strain.
  • Antanas collapses one day, and he just can't get up again.
  • He coughs all day and all night, but he keeps hoping he will be well enough to get back to work the next morning.
  • But, finally, Antanas dies.
  • They are too poor to give him a proper funeral according to the old customs, even though Teta Elzbieta protests.
  • Now winter has come, with its bitter, biting winds. (After all, Chicago's nickname is the Windy City.)
  • The packing houses have long lines of poor men waiting outside, desperate for a job in these tough times. They fight and jostle for a place.
  • And getting around the city in the cold and snow is difficult.
  • The boy who works on the lard canning machine with Stanislovas comes out of the cold one day screaming in pain.
  • The men at the factory start rubbing him down quickly to warm him up.
  • But it only takes two or three rubs to break his ears right off, since they are frostbitten.
  • This gives Stanislovas a deadly fear of the cold.
  • Finally, he will only leave for work in the morning if Jurgis will take him through the snow.
  • Jurgis often has to carry him on his shoulders.
  • And since Stanislovas refuses to go home by himself, he will almost freeze to death waiting for Jurgis.
  • The killing beds are also unheated. The men who handle knives can't wear gloves, which numbs their hands and makes them more likely to have accidents.
  • What makes all of this so unpleasant is that there is nowhere to eat.
  • Jurgis has two choices: he can either eat his meals surrounded by the stench of the stockyards, or he can rush to a bar and eat there.
  • But you can't enter these bars without drinking, which means yet another expense.
  • The only thing that keeps Jurgis from getting drunk during these meals is thoughts of Ona. For her, he stays sober.
  • The house only has one small coal-burning stove for heat. The whole family has to huddle around it, including the children after they get home from school.
  • At night, they have to sleep in all of their clothes to try and keep warm.
  • The house has no insulation and is poorly built, so there are tons of drafts.
  • The cold is like a living thing trying to get in at them.
  • Their constant battle against the cold leaves them weaker day by day.

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