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Free Study Guide-The Jungle by Upton Sinclair-Free Book Summary Notes
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CHAPTER 5

Summary

Jurgis and Ona have bought their home, and the next step is to furnish it. They decide to subscribe to an installment scheme to buy the furniture. Jurgis tramps over two miles twice one night carrying all the family's worldly possessions on his head in bundles. This is a common-place sight in Packingtown. Jurgis is working at a back-breaking pace on the killing beds. Yet he is enjoying the pace. The work is not pleasant, but he is satisfied with the wages. Most of his fellow workers, finds Jurgis, have a diametrically opposite view of the work, working conditions and pay. They hate the bosses, the owners, the neighborhood and the whole city. Jurgis cannot understand this attitude. He also falls foul of the butcher-helpers' union and refuses to enroll.

Antanas Rudkus, after scouring every workplace in Packingtown is offered a job by a boss in the pickle room at Durham's in return for one-third of his wages. Astonished, Jurgis consults his violinist friend Tamoszius Kuszleika about this deal. Kuszleika tells Jurgis such arrangements are commonplace in the stockyards. Dede Antanas accepts the deal and is put to work mopping the floor. He returns with horrifying details of how unusable, rotten scraps of meat, dirt and canning chemicals swabbed off filthy floors are all utilized for canning and pickling. Marija who is delighted with her wages as a can painter, learns that she has gotten her job at the cost of an ill worker, Mary Dennis, who had held the job for fifteen years before she was "turned off."

Jonas, whose job is pushing iron trucks of ham weighing over a quarter of a ton from place to place also finds out that he has taken the place of a man who was crushed against the wall by a truck. Jurgis also glimpses the corrupt practices at the killing beds -- when cows unfit for consumption are to be slaughtered, the boss engages the government inspector in conversation and the killing is executed rapidly. Similarly, dead cows are butchered late at night, after the inspectors leave, and then mixed with the healthy meat in the chilling rooms.

Notes

The furnishing plan for the house is influenced by an advertisement, one of the dozens that abound in Packingtown. On the one hand, these ads reflect the needs of Packingtown residents, created by the abominable conditions of overwork, unemployment and poverty they face. Typically, they also represent the great lie of Packingtown -- offering seeming solutions to problems but bringing with them problems of their own. This sense of falsehood that symbolizes Packingtown pervades the entire chapter. The furnishing set comes with items broken or missing. When the house is set up a delighted Ona exclaims it is really home -- but the house has not been paid for fully and does not belong to the family, who will ultimately lose it. The food products of Packingtown are advertised as wholesome and top-class, but Dede Antanas and Jurgis find this is a blatant lie.


While Marija, Dede Antanas and Jonas are shocked by their discoveries at the workplace, Jurgis is still unwilling to condemn the system. Even faced with the evidence against the factory owners, Jurgis is still unable to "bring himself to believe such things." Although he is a worker, he does not empathize with the woes of unfit workers unable to keep up with the killing pace. This shows Jurgis' immense pride in his own individual capacities. His face-off with the union illustrates the conflict of individual interest verses collective interests. Jurgis is shown as a short-term thinker - - he is proud of the fact that his job is hard enough that it takes all his energy to do it. He is unable to understand that the stockyards wring their workers dry by taking their health and strength -- if not their lives -- and then throwing them out to fend for themselves. He is too young and alive and vibrant to visualize his fate a few years down the line. Ironically, Jurgis is worried sick about his father, who is being rejected at every workplace because he is old and unfit.

The meat plants are sketched out as a hotbed of corruption, capable of tainting those who work in it. Every man is in competition with everyone else at his own level, and everyone "squeezes" those at the level beneath them. One rises not by hard work, but by deception. There is "no place where a man [counts] for anything against a dollar." Jurgis, who is at the very bottom of the system, will eventually learn these lessons. For now, however, he remains optimistic. Through all this filth and corruption, Jurgis and Ona's love for each other shines through -- they even use minor injuries as an excuse to kiss.

The style of writing employed is a summary narrative that does not dramatize events through dialogue but condenses events in succinct sentences.

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