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Free Study Guide-The Jungle by Upton Sinclair-Free Book Summary Notes
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CHAPTER 13

Summary

While Jurgis is still unemployed, Kristoforas, one of Elzbieta's sons, passes away. An undersized, rickety three-year-old with a congenital dislocated hip, he dies of food poisoning from eating tubercular pork. Elzbieta is heartbroken when Jurgis declares there is no money for Kristoforas' funeral. Finally, Marija contributes ten dollars and Elzbieta begs the neighbors for the rest.

Desperate, Jurgis decides to seek work at the worst hell-hole in Packingtown, the fertilizer plant. All of Packingtown's waste materials are processed here. The air is filled with bone dust and the ammonia fumes overpower strong men in minutes. The entire atmosphere is permeated by a foul stench that workers find impossible to banish from their bodies and clothes. Jurgis almost hopes he won't be hired. Then one June day, he is called in and allotted the task of shoveling fertilizer into carts. Within minutes, Jurgis is coated with fertilizer dust and despite a sponge tied around his nose and mouth, breathes in large quantities. Dizzy, sick, dogged by a headache and stinking from every pore, Jurgis sticks it out. On the streetcar, other passengers keep their distance from him. Even his family is made ill by the stench. But Jurgis continues to work.

Exposed to the debauchery downtown where they sell newspapers, Elzbieta's sons Vilimas and Nikalojus are growing wild. They get out of the habit of coming home everyday and Jurgis fears that soon they might cease to return home at all. So Jurgis decides the boys must return to school in spring, although this implies that their mother will have to go to work and thirteen-year-old Kotrina will be burdened with the housework and looking after her surviving crippled brother, Juozapas, and little Antanas. Elzbieta gets a job tending a sausage machine. She works in appalling conditions in a chilly, wet basement at superhuman speed.

Notes

Kristoforas becomes the next victim of Packingtown, though in a different way from Dede Antanas, who was killed by the working conditions. The little boy is killed by one of the packers' poisonous food products. Tragically, the family is forced to feed the children pork that is known to be adulterated and tubercular. The choice is between food poisoning and death by starvation. While the weakest amongst the children is killed by Packingtown's food, the stronger ones -- Vilimas and Nikalojus -- are being morally corrupted by the town. One way or the other no one escapes the stockyards' lecherous fingers.


Unemployment, grinding poverty and the gross injustice of life in Packingtown have further hardened Jurgis. Dede Antanas' death saw Jurgis bargaining over the hearse. With Kristoforas, Jurgis even refuses to pay for a funeral -- it is an unaffordable extravagance.

Jurgis plumbs the worst depths of the workingman's life with his decision to work in the fertilizer plant. The material with which they work -- all the waste of Packingtown -- is symbolic of the fact that those who labor here are also the dregs of the workforce. They are the waste left over after the rest of the stockyard work has used them up. The work is not only extremely unhealthy, it also makes one a social pariah due to the stench. Sinclair captures Jurgis' dilemma poignantly; he knows the fertilizer plant is his last chance and yet he hopes he will not be hired. Finally, when he does get the job, he treats it as "one more difficulty to meet and conquer." What Jurgis does not recognize is that every such difficulty he is conquering dehumanizes him further.

Elzbieta, who has so far been spared the tortures of working in Packingtown, is now forced by circumstances to join the workforce. Although she and the other women hired for the job are meant to manage the sausage machines, they in fact become its servants. Elzbieta and her co-workers are driven at such a pace that their hands are a "mist of motion." The speed and concentration the work demands reduces the women to ghosts.

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