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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The Jungle is structurally simple and straightforward, except for the opening chapter of the novel, which serves as a flash forward to later events. The wedding scene, which opens the novel, introduces the main characters and places them in the geographic location where most of the action will take place: Chicago's Packingtown. Chapter two takes the reader back to Lithuania some two years prior, where the story proper begins. The story then "catches up" to the first chapter, and in the chronology of events, the wedding detailed in the first chapter takes place in chapter seven of the book.
Since The Jungle is essentially meant as a vehicle of propaganda, the recurrent themes of the book -- the unsanitary manufacturing conditions in the meat factories and the inhuman living conditions of the working people -- begin to figure from the very beginning and continue throughout the novel. The human drama, however, unfolds progressively. A number of important events, most of them apparently positive, take place in the initial five chapters: Jurgis, Jonas, Marija, and Dede Antanas get employment, and the family buys a house and begins furnishing it.
From the sixth chapter onwards, the trials of the family begin in real earnest. The first major blow is the realization that they have been duped in buying the house and that their expenses on it will be far higher than they had been told. In order to pay for it, Stanislovas and Ona are forced to go to work. Soon after, Jurgis' father dies. Ona delivers a child -- a positive occurrence -- but is subsequently plagued by ill health. A major calamity, Jurgis' accident, occurs in chapter eleven and in the meantime, Ona starts experiencing nervous fits. All the members of the family grow more spiritless, machine-like and silent.
This series of tragedies and traumatic events lead up a series of events that, beginning in chapter twenty-one, make up the climax of the novel. Jurgis, after forcing Ona to reveal her sordid story of forced prostitution, attacks Connor. The inevitable fall-out is that Jurgis is imprisoned and the family winds up near starvation and loses the house. Jurgis finishes his sentence and returns to witness the next important event, the death of Ona in childbirth. Ona's death is followed by a period of relative calm, where Jurgis tries to find stable work and after some failed attempts is successful. This period, however is the calm before the storm. The next traumatic event is the drowning of little Antanas, after which Jurgis gives up hope and deserts the family to become a tramp. With this, the climax of the novel closes.
The outcome of the novel is the slow but deliberate leading up to of another theme of the novel, the exposition of socialism and Jurgis' finding final salvation in this ideology. The actual outcome and the events directly leading up to it are spread over the last four chapters. The chapters between the climax and these last four chapters deal with various incidents in the life of Jurgis that are aimed at exposing various evils of capitalism and capitalist politics. The novel ends with a political event that is connected not so much to the main human story, but with the times in which the novel is set. It is an actual event, the American election of 1904, in which the Socialist party made a small but significant showing, especially in Chicago. A novel that is essentially tragic thus has a happy and hopeful end.