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Free Study Guide-The Jungle by Upton Sinclair-Free Book Summary Notes
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CHAPTER 9

Summary

On becoming more active in the union, Jurgis wants to learn English. The children, who are studying in school, help him and Ona reads to him. Jurgis joins a night school and also begins to take a greater interest in politics and public affairs. Within three months of beginning work at Brown's, Jurgis is offered naturalization papers to become a citizen. He happily accepts the offer when he learns that it comes with a benefit -- a paid half- holiday with beer and sight-seeing. On election day, he is given the morning off and is paid two dollars to vote, after being shown, of course, how to mark is ballot.

Jurgis learns that unlike Russia, America is a "democracy." Sinclair explains it thus: "The officials who ruled [the country], and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters known as political parties, and the one who got the office which bought the most votes." An Irishman called Mike Scully, a Democratic Party boss rules the district in which the stockyards are located. Scully is fabulously wealthy and powerful and emerges unscathed from the worst corruption scandals. He controls jobs, bribery, building activity, bureaucracy and trade in the stockyard district.

Through his association with the union Jurgis learns a great deal about Packingtown's "industrious" ways -- the packers gather and clean the animal hairs and fat from the banks of Bubbly Creek, an arm of the Chicago river that runs along the yards and into which enormous quantities of chemicals and waste matter are poured. The fat is used to make edible lard. The marketing of diseased, tubercular, cholera-ridden meat certified by corrupt government inspectors is another well-known racket. Various products advertised as unusual delicacies -- mushroom catsup, potted chicken, potted ham, deviled ham -- are actually leftover odds and ends of cattle or spoilt meat treated with chemicals, dyed or otherwise adulterated. Jurgis also learns about the various occupational hazards and afflictions of Packingtown's working men and women. Those wielding knives lose fingers or the use of their thumbs, pickle factory workers suffer deadly sores, cooking room workers contract tuberculosis, chilling room workers suffer from rheumatism, the wool pluckers' fingers are destroyed by acid, the canners are easy prey for blood poisoning and the tank room workers often fall into bubbling open vats, their remains emerging as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard.


Notes

This chapter develops the theme of Jurgis' involvement with the union and through it the growth of his personality. For the first time, the reader learns of some positive things that exist in an otherwise wretched system -- the free night school, the union and a democratic political system, albeit a thoroughly perverted one.

Through all the examples of dishonesty and depravity, Sinclair makes a strong political statement. His intent is to document extensively the unethical practices of the packers and the corruption of their political mentors. This goal is sometimes at odds with his literary intentions. Large sections of the chapter read like newspaper exposes and Jurgis is often a vehicle by which Sinclair presents his information. The citation of statistics and even a footnote quoting sections of the US Agriculture department's Rules and Regulations for the Inspection of Live Stock and their Products makes for rather unusual and awkward reading in a novel. Still, the abuses and scams Sinclair depicts are true and caused a huge impact on readers when the novel was published.

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