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Free Study Guide-The Jungle by Upton Sinclair-Free Book Summary Notes
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CHAPTERS 16 - 17

Summary

As his senses clear, Jurgis realizes the folly of his act. Attacking Connor cannot ease Ona's suffering or help the family survive. Jurgis has been charged with assault and battery and is taken to court the next morning. The infamous and formidably powerful Justice Callahan hears the case. Callahan posts the bond at three hundred dollars and accedes to the company lawyer's request for a week's adjournment. Unable to furnish the bond, Jurgis is remanded to the county jail until the trial.

After a thorough bath, Jurgis is taken to his filthy, vermin-ridden windowless cell. Jurgis is agitated and unable to sleep and as he listens to a nearby church bell toll he realizes it is Christmas Eve. He is tortured by memories of his boyhood Christmas days and even the penurious celebrations in Packingtown with his family. The tolling of the bells are like taunts to Jurgis -- he and his family have nothing to celebrate. The chimes ring out not for them, but for others. Jurgis and his loved ones have been cast aside like refuse. He is appalled by the injustice of a system that feeds and houses him, the accused, and allows his innocent, helpless family to starve. These hours of torturous reflection sow in Jurgis the seeds of rebellion.

The next day, another prisoner is brought to share Jurgis' cell. Jack Duane, a safecracker and thief, appears suave and sophisticated to Jurgis. He entertains Jurgis with stories of his various escapades and has Jurgis tell him about his own life. Duane introduces Jurgis to the other prisoners, who nickname him "the stinker," thanks to his fertilizer aroma. Through Duane and the other prisoners, Jurgis gets a first-hand glimpse of Packingtown's nether world.


On New Year's eve, Jurgis is tried at Justice Callahan's court. Elzbieta and Kotrina are present in the courtroom. So is Jurgis' archenemy Connor, his face swathed in bandages. The company's lawyer claims Jurgis attacked Connor because Ona had been dismissed. The lawyer paints a ferocious picture of Jurgis. In faltering English, Jurgis tries to explain why he attacked Connor. The judge dismisses Jurgis' story with barely a hearing and sentences him to thirty days in prison, plus court costs. Jurgis is taken to Bridewell, a prison for small-time criminals of Cook County. Ten days later, Stanislovas visits Jurgis. He has been sent to ask for money. Jurgis learns that Ona is very sick and that Marija has badly injured her hand and cannot work. Stanislovas has lost his job, because his boss and Connor are friends. The sausage department has shut down and therefore Elzbieta has lost her job as well. There is no money for food, coal or the rent. Kotrina has joined the boys downtown, selling newspapers. Jurgis is also horrified to hear that Ona went back to Miss Henderson for her job, but was refused. Listening to the sobbing Stanislovas recounting this horrific tale, Jurgis feels crushed. He gives the boy all that he has - fourteen cents.

Notes

His days in jail are a period of reflection and introspection for Jurgis. The consequences of the attack on Connor, made in fury, now hit him. He realizes the futility of his action and is haunted by visions of the family's suffering. What Jurgis visualizes now, Ona had already predicted, even as she told Jurgis her anguished tale. For the first time, Jurgis also considers the matter from Ona's point of view; her anguish and humiliation have not been mitigated in the least by Jurgis' trying to kill Connor. He curses himself because he has not "stood between her and a fate which every one knew to be so common." He also comes to the horrifying conclusion that Ona's only deliverance lies in death, because she will not be able to live with her "disgrace."

Jurgis is tortured by the thought that the house, which symbolizes all their hopes, will now be certainly lost. Says Sinclair: "Perhaps it was very base of Jurgis to be thinking about the house when he has the other unspeakable thing to fill his mind; yet how much he had suffered for this house, how much they had all of them suffered! It was their one hope of respite as long as they lived; they had put all their money into it -- and they were working people, poor people whose money was their strength, the very substance of them, body and soul, the thing by which they lived and for lack of which they died." Ironically, the house is also partly responsible for the dire straits the family finds itself in.

Sinclair uses the courtroom scenes in these chapters to comment on the judicial system. Callahan, who is supposed to be impartial and honest because he is a judge, is in fact politically motivated, corrupt and represents the interests of the packers. "If Scully were the thumb, Pat Callahan was the first finger of the unseen hand whereby the packers held down the people of the district." Annoyed by Jurgis' smell and anxious to get home, he readily entertains the lies spouted by the company lawyer, while disregarding the truth spoken by Jurgis, a powerless workingman.

The church bells tolling on Christmas Eve are to the imprisoned Jurgis a symbol of Packingtown's heartlessness. The bitter injustice and irony of his being fed while the women and children of his family starve lead him to shower "ten thousand curses" on the lawmakers and their law. He is hit by the realization that their "justice" is a lie, "a hideous brutal lie, a thing too black and hateful for any world but a world of nightmares."

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