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Free Study Guide-The Jungle by Upton Sinclair-Free Book Summary Notes
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CHAPTER 4

Summary

Jurgis reports for work at Brown's the next morning. He earns seventeen and a half cents an hour, and the long hours of work fetch him over one and a half dollars on the first day. Jonas is promised a job at the start of the next week. Marija is hired for the skilled job of painting cans and will be earning two dollars a day. Only Dede Antanas has been unable to find a job, and Jurgis learns that is extremely doubtful that anyone will hire someone his father's age -- the factories do not even retain men who have grown old working for them.

Their apparent good luck on the employment front fuels hopes of buying a house. Jurgis finds a circular advertising an installment scheme for buying homes -- a three hundred dollar down payment with the balance to be paid at the rate of twelve dollars a month for a hundred months. As the family is already paying nine dollars a month in rent, they decide to pool their meager resources and make the down payment.

Ona and Teta Elzbieta make inquiries about the house from the agent and return with the impression that the deal is a wonderful bargain. When the family finally sees the house on the weekend, they find several defects, but try to ignore them and are swayed by the persuasive arguments of the agent. Szedvilas tries to dissuade them with chilling stories of people being swindled in house buying schemes through tricky contracts. However, the family, thinking that he perhaps may be bitter for not being financially successful himself, isn't convinced. In addition, their present accommodations are awful, and the thoughts of paying even more rent for a decent place is frightening. They discuss the matter extensively and Jurgis, taking charge, makes the final decision to buy the house.

As the agreement is to be signed and the down payment made on a working day, Jurgis cannot be present himself. Instead, Ona and Teta Elzbieta shoulder this onerous responsibility, and Szedvilas accompanies them. The contract is couched in tricky language and Szedvilas raises many doubts about its contents. The trio decides to consult a lawyer. They walk a long distance to get a man who is not likely to be a cohort of the house agent only to find the lawyer greeting the agent by his first name. The lawyer assures them the deed is perfectly regular. Reluctantly, Teta Elzbieta signs the document and pays the three hundred dollars -- their entire savings. When Jurgis learns of the events he is furious and rushes to a lawyer, who assures him that the document is "just as it should be."

Notes

The purchase of the house is a very important step in the development of the novel's plot. The housing deal, of course, is a trap and will greatly contribute to the future unhappiness of Jurgis and his family. Though a home is ordinarily a place of joy, this home will become a symbol of the unhappiness that will dog their lives. They shell out all they have and will have to continue to pay out all they earn just to hold on to the house. That they will eventually lose the house is evident to the reader but not the family. Smooth talking swindlers like the house agent abound in Packingtown and they overwhelm simple peasant people who are new to the place.


Brought up on old world, rural customs, Jurgis and his family find it discourteous even to ask the agent too many questions, for this would display a distrust towards the "gentleman." The agent takes full advantage of this innate sense of decency. The swindlers of Packingtown also use various devices to fool gullible people like Jurgis and his family. For instance, the advertising circular displays a gorgeous house complete with a swing seating a tender young couple, but the house they actually get is nothing like the one advertised. Again, the advertisement is printed in the native languages of the immigrants, but the crucial deed of agreement is in a foreign language, English. Another example is that of the lawyers -- they are supposed to be impartial professionals but are bought off by the house agents and help in trapping Jurgis and his family.

Sinclair uses the dealings between the family and the house agent to exhibit how two distinctly different viewpoints of the world operate. The city slicker is worldly but cutthroat, while the country bumpkins are ignorant but honorable. It is evident that the latter will fare much the worse in the deal. However, the experience of life in Packingtown is also fast teaching the immigrant family new ways. When overwhelmed by doubt over the contents of the house deed, Elzbieta dispenses with etiquette and as Jurgis has instructed, calls for a lawyer.

The family's confidence in their ability to buy a house springs from what they consider are their handsome salaries. But the reader may appreciate that sums like seventeen and a half cents an hour are miserly and could only be considered handsome by impoverished rural standards. Although the house suffers from many serious defects, Elzbieta is willing to overlook them simply because running water and a sink -- unheard of luxuries by rural Lithuanian standards -- are provided. Again, the family does not heed Szedvilas' advice about renting a house, for they consider renting wasteful. The family ultimately chooses to buy a house even though it is a prohibitive expenditure, because it will represent something of their own, akin to farmland in the village. What they fail to realize is the futility of trying to create a home in a country that views them purely as expendable labor. In Packingtown the workers are as permanent as the cattle housed in the pens awaiting slaughter. When their utility is exhausted, they must clear out.

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