Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
It is Jurgis and his family's second day in Packingtown. Jokubas Szedvilas tries to use his acquaintance with a policeman to get jobs for Jonas and Antanas. Jurgis gets a job shoveling guts at Browns with great ease and is asked to report the next morning. Jokubas takes his friends on a sightseeing tour of the cattle and hog processing factories. They learn that eight to ten million heads of cattle, hogs and sheep are turned into food there every year.
At Durham's plant, which has a viewing gallery for visitors, they watch the mechanized killing, dressing and packaging of hogs -- a sophisticated yet crude process carried out on two floors. The appalling cries of the dying hogs bring tears to some of the visitors' eyes. Each part of the hog is handled by different men performing various specialized jobs. Thus, several hundred men end up dressing one hog. Sinclair describes the process as "pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics." Before each carcass passes into the chilling room, a government inspector is expected to check it for tuberculosis. The inspector, however, is far from vigilant. On the lower floor, in the midst of an overwhelming stench, Jurgis and the others also see how waste material from the hogs is processed and utilized, how the chilled carcasses are butchered and how the meat is packed and loaded onto the freight cars.
They then visit Brown's beef packing factory across the street, where four to five hundred cattle are slaughtered every hour. Here all the work is done on one floor, unlike at Durham's. The animals are herded into pens, stunned with sledgehammers and led to the killing beds, shackled and then slaughtered. The carcasses are then strung up in long rows. The workers move from row to row with devilish speed, each man carrying out a specialized task, from bleeding the animals to skinning them.
Every tiniest particle of scrap from the animals is utilized for a host of items, including combs, buttons, glue, fertilizer and violin strings. Jokubas, who is a fount of knowledge, informs them that the meat industry employs thirty thousand men, supports two hundred and fifty thousand people in the neighborhood and indirectly supports half a million. Its products are consumed by thirty million people. He speaks somewhat sarcastically about the packing process, however, saying that the owners let the people see only what they want them to. Jurgis is unable to appreciate this sarcasm and is grateful for having been accepted as part of this gigantic and wonderful machine.
Although it is the slaughter of animals that is being described in the chapter, the portrayal is symbolic, for it is the future fate of those who today are the viewers that is being described. Sinclair embodies his hogs with human qualities -- "they were so innocent, they came so trustingly, they were so very human in their protests." The hero Jurgis even says, "I'm glad I'm not a hog!" But he is one, nevertheless. Just as the packing industry uses every bit of the hog, it uses every bit of the man, and then discards him when he is no longer of value.
This symbolic slaughter of hogs and cattle creates a picture that illustrates the title of the novel -- The Jungle. Modern industrial society is akin to a jungle where humans are hunted as prey. Only the laws of the jungle prevail. The industrialists are the hunters and the workmen and their families the hunted. In this jungle, cutthroat competition between the hunters is also the law -- Brown, who runs the beef packaging plant, and Durham, who owns the hog processing one, are required by law "to try to ruin each other under penalty of fine and imprisonment." Sinclair is sarcastically referring here to anti-trust laws, designed to prevent economic power from being concentrated in the hands of a few monopolies. Yet, as will become evident later, far from being in competition, the various owners are in collusion, and cooperate to intimidate workers and keep the costs of labor low.
In reality, it is the workers who must compete with each other for jobs, and it is their desperation that keeps them working, even though their working conditions are appalling. While Jurgis is impressed at the efficiency with which several hundred men are involved in the slaughtering and dressing of one hog, Sinclair considers the process dehumanizing, for each man is essentially reduced to a machine, performing the same two or three actions all day, every day.
Sinclair uses the device of foreshadowing to create a foreboding atmosphere. For instance, Jurgis lands a job effortlessly within half an hour of standing outside the factory gates because he is big and strong. The unsaid corollary is that someday he will lose his job with as much ease when he ceases to possess these saleable virtues. Another example of foreshadowing is in Jurgis' initial opinion of the beef killing operation. As a spectator in this chapter, he thinks the process is amazing and is grateful to be part of it. He feels protected by the fact that he has been chosen to join this wonderful enterprise. The reader can practically foretell that later, Jurgis' experiences as a worker on the killing beds will radically alter this view.
A large portion of this chapter is devoted to hard-core documentation. Such material does not often find place in novels. Although Sinclair states that Jokubas had recently read a newspaper article on the industry and was eager to share the information and impress his guests, his role as a knowledgeable guide is purely a device to deliver the statistics and technical information about the process in narrative form. Essentially the author has important factual data and a serious message to convey, which he disguises in the form of fiction.