Study Guide

The Jungle Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

  • The union inspires Jurgis to learn English.
  • He's also starting to feel embarrassed that he has to rely on Ona to read things to him.
  • So, Jurgis enrolls in a free night school to learn both English and how to read.
  • The union also teaches Jurgis to be interested in politics.
  • When Jurgis first arrived at Brown's, he was approached by one of the night watchmen.
  • This man told him to show up at a certain time to take an oath of citizenship; this would get Jurgis half a day's pay with no hard labor, and he would be a citizen of the United States.
  • So, Jurgis turns up alongside a bunch of other new immigrants, takes an oath he doesn't understand, and becomes a citizen.
  • About a month later, this man tells Jurgis to register to vote.
  • And then, when election day comes, this night watchman leads Jurgis and a bunch of other guys to a polling station to vote exactly as he tells them to vote.
  • Jurgis tells this story to Jonas, who privately approaches this night watchman to offer to vote three times for $4.
  • At the union, Jurgis's friends explain what has happened. They tell him that the United States is a democracy, with political parties.
  • The two main political parties are so committed to beating each other that they cheat in elections all the time.
  • One way that they do this is by buying votes for their candidates; all unknowing, Jurgis became one of those votes.
  • The person who manages the politics of Packingtown is a man called Mike Scully, a rich Irishman with lots of friends who runs what he calls the "War Whoop League."
  • Apparently, even the packers are afraid of Mike Scully.
  • When the city tried to make the packers cover over the part of the Chicago River where all the meatpacking plants dump their waste, the packers had to ask Mike Scully to intervene with the city council to keep it from happening.
  • (This part of the Chicago River is called "Bubbly Creek," and it is so badly polluted that its surface sometimes catches fire. This is actually an ongoing environmental problem – check out these photos of Cleveland's Cuyahoga River catching fire repeatedly thanks to dire pollution.)
  • Speaking of things that are horrible in the meatpacking industry, everyone thinks meat has been certified safe by the government because there are inspectors onsite at all the factories.
  • Yet these inspectors have been appointed at the request of the meatpacking management, and they also have very little authority.
  • What's more, of course the politicians who appoint these inspectors are in the pay of the rich men of Chicago.
  • Inspectors who object to bad meat immediately get replaced at the meatpackers' request.
  • Things are even worse for meat used only for canning. A lot of the beef used in canneries is from old, crippled, or diseased cattle.
  • Beef from these cattle, the narrator suggests, has killed more American soldiers than the Spaniards of the Spanish-American War (1898).
  • The canneries use lots of tricks to pass off spoiled or scrap meat as prime product to the American consumer.
  • But it's not just the cattle that are diseased in Packingtown; it's the laborers themselves.
  • The chemicals they use to brine meat or treat wool or leather eat away at their hands and knives slip and leave open wounds prone to infection.
  • But worst of all are the men who process animal bones for fertilizer.
  • These men work in the most appalling smell with vats full of chemicals.
  • When they fall into these chemicals, they are lost. Often, there is nothing more than bone to retrieve.
  • Sometimes, if no one notices they have fallen in for long enough, their bodies are processed along with cattle flesh for lard and fertilizer. (Ick!!)

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