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The theme of the book is aptly described by its title, The Jungle. Packingtown is a jungle, where the packers drive humans to live like animals. The workers face essentially the same fate as the helpless animals put up for slaughter. If they are not outright killed in their jobs, they are used and exploited until the system has no further use for them, at which time they are discarded. In this debased state of affairs, both exploiter and exploited lose their human qualities and become animal-like and savage.
An essential aspect of the jungle is the filthy manufacturing practices of the packers who use rotten, diseased, and adulterated meat in their product. The Jungle exposes these practices just as it exposes the greater exploitation of the workers in Packingtown.
A minor but important theme of the book is the promise of Socialism as an answer to the ills of Capitalism, as represented by Packingtown. Before discovering Socialism, Jurgis' alternatives are to either be destroyed by the system or become an evil, exploitative part of it. Through Socialism, he begins to feel that he has the power to effectively fight back.
The mood for the most part is tragic and grim, as the main characters face one tragedy after another. Even in the novel's sunnier portions, future tragedies are foreshadowed. It is only in the last few chapters, where Jurgis discovers Socialism that the novel takes on a positive and hopeful note.