Sunday, April 11, 2010

Group Presentation: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Our group, which included Mandy, Jada, me, Jason, and Jeff, led a class discussion about Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, approaching the text from a Marxist theoretical perspective. Our goal was to determine whether the workers in The Jungle were treated unjustly by the ruling class. We divided the class into two main groups, the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie. Each group was then divided into three smaller groups represented in Sinclair's novel-- child laborers, prostitutes, factory workers, politicians, factory owners, and the clergy. Each group was given time to meet and discuss the novel and to find information and evidence from The Jungle to defend their position. After the class debated the issues, our group determined whether or not the workers were treated unjustly by the Bourgeoisie based on the strength of the arguments made.

For this group discussion, I created the outline below, which served as a guide for the presentation, and I summarized each of the chapters in The Jungle, including information that would be relevant to the class discussion.


I. Introduction: Marxist Theory and a summary of The Jungle. A trial/debate will be conducted to determine whether the workers in The Jungle are treated unjustly under the capitalist system (approx. 5 minutes).
II. Trial
A. The class will be broken up into two main groups: Proletariat Vs. Bourgeoisie or Ruling Class
B. The proletariat will be divided into three groups: prostitutes, factory workers, and child laborers (i.e. newspaper sellers, machine workers, etc.). The ruling class will be divided into three groups: Church, Politicians (Scully, union leaders, etc.), and factory owners (Jones, Durham, etc.)
C. Each of the smaller groups will consist of approximately 3 people and will have 10 minutes to meet and discuss who they are and the institutions they represent by finding information about their groups in the text. They will formulate reasons/evidence to defend their position.
D. We will reconvene as a large group where each of the smaller groups will have 2-3 minutes to present their information, explaining who they are in the story and why their actions are justified.
E. Each group will also be given an opportunity to question and debate with other groups, using information—and hopefully direct quotes—from the text to attack the position of an opposing group. This should take 10-20 minutes.
F. The discussion leaders will be the jury, moderating the discussion and timing each section.
III. Conclusion: Judgment will be rendered at the end of the trial by the Honorable Judge Wexler.

The Jungle Chapter Notes

Ch. 1: The wedding of Jurgis and Ona. Many of the younger guests leave the wedding without paying any money for the veselija, leaving Jurgis and his family with a large debt for the wedding. The chapter ends when Jurgis says, "I will work harder." Jurgis still believes that all of his financial problems can be solved simply by working hard.

Ch. 2: The narrator recounts how Jurgis and his family saved money to come to America. During their journey to America, they lost their money to immigration workers who took advantage of immigrants. When Jurgis and his family lose most of the money they saved to settle in America, he replies, "I will work harder." Jurgis believes that because he is healthy, young, and hard-working, this will be enough to make him successful in America. He believes that those who have failed to succeed in this land of opportunity have only themselves to blame because they are either too weak or too lazy to earn their success [MYTH #1: The poor only have themselves to blame. Anyone can pull himself up by his bootstraps, if he only tries. If he remains poor, he has only himself to blame. This ignores the fact that a capitalist system is a pyramid that depends on a large base of poor laborers to support the ever narrowing structure of people who have resources above them. In Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonegut quotes Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who states, "Americans believe things that are obviously untrue, especially that it is easy to make money. The poor blame themselves when they find this is not true, and this provides an easy way out of guilt for the rich. Americans have the novelty of an undignified poor who do not love each other because they do not love themselves."]

Ch. 3: We get a tour of packingtown—or at least what the public is allowed to see. It is a well ordered and very efficient killing machine, slaughtering hundreds of helpless animals for consumption every day. What we will learn in later chapters is that the men who toil over the various beasts and packing house machines to bring America meat are likewise put through the meat grinder, as they are used for their labor until their bodies wear out and are tossed aside without compensation. Laborers are consumed (sometimes literally) along with the meat they kill, process, and pack for consumption. We also see that the state inspectors, who are obviously in the pay of the bourgeoisie owners and corrupt politicians, allow diseased meat to pass inspection.

Ch. 4: In this chapter we also see how false advertising, lures Jurgis and his family in to look at a dilapidated house placed on the market by property owners and realtors (Scully and his agents). At first the rent seems affordable and the house seems solid; however, as the story progresses, we see that the house is poorly built, using substandard materials, and the real estate contract is riddled with ambiguous language that results in higher payments that eventually become impossible for the family to pay, which results in repossession of the house and a loss of all funds invested in the real property.

Ch. 5: Jurgis has his first encounter with the union and refuses to join because they request dues. He thinks that if people do not succeed then it is their own fault and that he has no need for protection from a union because he will work hard to become successful. His father, Dede Antanas, has trouble getting a job because of his age. Once a person becomes old or physically unable to carry on the demanding duties of factory work, he is thrown out without any compensation and prevented from gaining employment—a more overt form of ageism that plagues our markets today. He finally gains employment when he agrees to pay a man 1/3 of his wages as a "finder's fee" for the job. The family learns that this form of graft is quite common where the old and weak seeking employment are concerned. Dede Antanas's job involves packing old and rotten meat from the drains for consumption. Marija and Jurgis gain positions at Brown's canning factory and Durham's meat packing factory after their injured predecessors are forced out of their jobs. Both do well in the beginning because they are strong, willing, and able to work long hours for their pay. Jurgis and Marija are lucky compared to the hundreds of laborers who show up at the factories before dawn every morning hoping to be picked by the factory supervisors for work. People are often unemployed for months on end. With no welfare system in place, many, unable to find employment, die of starvation.

Ch. 6: Jurgis and Ona are still in love at this point. However, as the story progresses this changes. The family meets Grandmother Majauszkiene, a next door neighbor who tells them that the house they purchased is shoddily built and the purchase agreement they signed includes many hidden fees that they will most likely fail to pay and get evicted, as all of the other families who previously occupied the property have. Upon learning of the additional fees, Ona is forced to find a job and must pay a bribe to gain her position at a meat packing factory. We also learn how the packing houses imported labor from Germany, Ireland, and Lithuania to replace worn-out workers and to water down the labor pool and keep wages low. Stanislovas must also get a job. He is two years below the legal age to work, so the Church forges a birth certificate, lying about his age, so that he will be hired to work in front of a lard machine in a packing house. The Church and workers lie about children's ages and the factories pretend to believe the lies. The whole system facilitates child labor to further flood the labor market and drive down wages (children were paid 1/3 what an average adult worker made). Children were also used to work the machines—many of which replace human laborers. The work is dull, repetitive, and keeps the worker focused on only one small, isolated part of the productive process (alienation).

Ch. 7: We see our first winter in packingtown. The extreme cold sweeps through and takes away all of the people who are too weak, sick, or old to survive the winter--survival of the fittest. We also learn how everyone lies, cheats, and steals in this town in order to survive. Medicine is adulterated, water is polluted with formaldehyde, cotton is mixed with inferior fibers, peas are colored with poisons--such as copper salts, and there is no adequate sewage system. Jurgis and his family become sick because of the cesspool that exists under their home. In short, there is no government oversight to regulate unscrupulous criminals who lie, cheat, and steal in the name of free capitalism. Dede Antonas dies during the first winter from Tuberculosis.

Ch. 8: Factory workers are strongly encouraged to eat at the local saloon during lunch, where they are forced buy large quantities of alcohol with their meals, turning a large number of laborers into alcoholics. Jurgis resists this temptation because Ona packs his lunch and he does not want to jeopardize his ability to earn a proper living for his family. Jurgis joins a union after he sees how corrupt the system is and understands that unions are necessary for the protection of workers who labor in a system that sets the average worker up for failure. We also see how the workers' hours are reduced after Christmas. Although workers are expected to come to work for full days, they only get paid for the hours that the factory bosses put them to work, which may only be a few hours.

Ch. 9: Jurgis attends union meetings and learns English. He also learns that spoiled, diseased, and defective meat is routinely sold to the public for consumption. He is made a citizen and lead to vote for the Democratic party by the agents of powerful and corrupt political bosses like Scully. Scully is also a member of the bourgeoisie, as he sells the rancid water that collects in the dump site cisterns and in bubbly creek. He is also at the head of the advertising/real estate scheme that Jurgis and his family fell pray to. Scully poses as a good social Democrat; however, like all Democrats he works with the Republicans and bourgeoisie against the interest of the workers.

Ch. 10: Jurgis goes to the real estate agent and finds out exactly what all of the costs are for their home. Marija is fired from Brown's because she is outspoken about worker's rights—something she learned from the union she joined. She finds another job, which is more grueling and pays less. Ona finds that her boss, Mrs. Henderson, who works as a madame in a brothel, resents Ona because she is loyal to her husband and honors her marriage vows. Ona has a baby and is back to work the next day (missing work for being sick is not allowed). Her early return to work damages her health permanently. This was a common occurrence among women of the labor class. Women make ½ of what men make and children make less than that.

Ch. 11: There is a run on the bank—a common occurrence during this time. Marija, who has a savings account, stands in line for days to withdraw money during a bank run. If workers are fortunate enough to save money, it is never safe. If they leave it at home, it can be robbed. If it is deposited in a bank, it is not insured and can be lost during a bank run. All businesses are safe because of monopolies. They work together to fix wages and keep unemployment high. Jonas seriously injures his leg when a steer runs loose in the factory. He is forced to convalesce at home and loses his position at Durham's. His only consolation is spending more time at home with his son, whom he barely sees because of the grueling hours he has been forced to keep.

Ch. 12: During one of the severe winter snow storms, Stanislovas's hand becomes frostbitten, permanently disabling him. As a result, Jurgis has to beat him to go to work whenever there is snow. During his convalescence Jonas becomes very thin and sick. The family loses money during his convalescence. Jonas leaves the family at this time. The family speculates that he either fell into one of the rendering vats at Durham's and died, or he had enough of the pressure of taking care of the large family and struck out on his own. Because of Jurgis's illness, Marija is spending all of her savings to support the family and putting off her wedding to Timoszius Kuszleika, the violinist. The family even borrows money from Timoszius. It is decided that the two younger children Vilmas and Kikalojus will work as newspaper sellers. They meet with misfortune in the beginning because their money is taken by a con artist. The children eventually learn the tricks of the trade and bring home as much as 40 cents a day (p.128). After Jurgis recovers, he tries to find work; however, he has a difficult time because he is thin and sickly. Sinclair tells us that injured workers had little legal recourse and often received nothing for their work-related injuries (130).

Ch. 13: Kristoforas, the youngest of Teta Elzbieta's children dies. He had congenital dislocation of the hip and was a sickly child. His illness was exacerbated by their unsanitary living conditions. We begin to see the family values disintegrate as we learn that everyone in the family is not saddened but relieved upon hearing the news of young Kristoforas's death. Jurgis refuses to pay for a funeral for the useless child, so Marija steps in a pays for it (note: the Church charges more than most can afford to conduct proper burial rights). Jurgis finally finds work in the worst possible place, a fertilizer factory. He constantly smells like feces and breathes in germs, chemicals, and other poisons during the course of the work day. He also pollutes his home with residual waste from work. Teta Elzbieta must find a job and finds work in a sausage packing factory at a machine. Kotrina, the youngest daughter becomes prematurely old as she is left to care for young Antanas, her little brother, and to cook and clean and take care of all of the domestic needs of the workers (138).

Ch. 14: We are given graphic details about the how factories repackage spoiled meat for public consumption. It is made into sausages, headcheese, pickled, and treated with various chemicals to mask decay and odor. Life becomes worse for the family as they fall into a numbing routine of work and sleep. They eat little and Ona and Jurgis are growing more distant from each other. Little Antanas is constantly sick. Ona is pregnant again and has nervous fits often, puzzling Jurgis and leaving him feeling helpless.

Ch. 15: Ona starts to stay away from home at night. She makes excuses, telling the family that the snow storm kept her at her friend's house. Jurgis, talks to her friend and finds out that Ona has been lying to him. Ona reluctantly tells him that her forelady and Phil Connor, a supervisor at her factory, forced her to become Connor's mistress. If she refused, he threatened to fire her and her family and to prevent them from finding employment anywhere in town. He raped Ona and forced her to have sex with him at Mrs. Henderson's brothel several times. Jurgis becomes enraged at the news, goes to Ona's place of employment and attacks Connor. It takes several men to stop Jurgis from beating him to death.

Ch. 16: Jurgis is sent to jail. The jails are very unsanitary, where the men are packed into dirty, small, insect-infested cells. He hopes he won't be tried by "Pat" Callahan, who is described in the book as a bully and a corrupt judge. Sinclair states, "If Scully was the thumb, Pat Callahan was the first finger of the unseen hand whereby the packers held down the people of the district" (163). He hates foreigners and owns brothels and dives and decided to get into politics to earn himself a respectable reputation. Unfortunately, Callahan oversees his bail hearing and sets the bail at an impossible $300.00. He spends a bitter Christmas behind bars worrying about his wife and family who must manage financially without him.

Ch. 17: He meets and befriends a con-man, named Jack Duane, who shares a cell with him. Jack Duane likes Jurgis because of his honesty and takes an interest in him because of his hardships. He tells Jurgis that eventually he will have to leave his family behind if he wants to make it in the world and that he may contact him once he is freed from prison. After and unfair trial where Jurgis represents himself and Connor presents false evidence, Jurgis is sent to Bridewell prison for thirty days. The judge does not care that Jurgis's family will most likely starve in his absence. The prisoners at Bridewell are sentenced to hard labor, which is nothing compared to the work the average laborer performs in the factories at home. The prisoners are also fed three times a day and given a reasonably comfortable place to live. We see that prison life is almost better than the life outside in the "free" world. Stanislovas visits Jurgis in prison and asks for money. Jurgis gives him fourteen cents. He learns that Ona, Teta Elzbieta, Marija, and Stanislovas have all lost their jobs. Marija has blood poisoning from an injury at work. They cannot find work elsewhere because Connor has blacklisted them. Kotrina is being sent to work the streets as a newspaper seller.

Ch. 18: Jurgis is held a few extra days to pay for the "privilege" of being maintained as a state prisoner. He has trouble finding his way home and walks for miles to get from the prison to his home. He discovers another family living in his home because his family has been evicted and lives in a dirty boarding house in town. Jurgis arrives to find Ona in labor with their child who is going to be delivered early. There are complications; however, the family cannot afford to pay a doctor to attend to her (the laborers did not have access to health care).

Ch. 19: He borrows some money and begs a midwife to help his wife during her delivery. The woman reluctantly comes to help Jurgis and Ona and chastises Jurgis for not taking care of his wife when she sees the squalor of the boarding house Ona is living in. Madame Haupt is unable to save Ona as she was called too late. The baby is dead and Ona is dying. Jurgis gets drunk, after she dies, using Kotrina's earnings.

Ch. 20: Jurgis agrees to stay with the family and help support them after Ona's death for the sake of little Antanas. He cannot find work because Connor has blacklisted him. He finds temporary work in a harvest machine manufacturing company. He is treated well there, but the work is only seasonal and he finds himself unemployed after a few months.

Ch. 21: Jurgis struggles once again to find work. Teta Elzbieta's youngest son, who was crippled when a wagon ran over one of his legs, goes through the garbage dump area to search for food and treasures for the family. The family is also sustained by the wages the other children are bringing home (in this world, child labor is immoral but in most cases necessary). A wealthy woman, engaged to be married to a superintendant of a mill, sees Juozapas sifting through the trash, learns of the family's problems and gives Jurgis a note that allows him to find employment at her fiancée's mill. He comes home on weekends because the mill is out of town. One day, he returns to find that little Antanas has fallen off of the boardwalk and has drown in a puddle of mud outside of their boardinghouse. Jurgis leaves the family, severing all ties.

Ch. 22: Jurgis goes into the country and lives as a tramp. A farmer tries to employ him for the summer; however, Jurgis turns him down. He has money in his pocket and decides that he does not want to work. He finds that work in the country is only seasonal and that although working conditions are cleaner and more humane in the country, they are only temporary. He bathes in a lake, washes the smell of manure out of his clothes, and for the first time feels clean, relaxed, and free. He enjoys his life as a tramp and looks at his former life as a dark trap that he was freed from once his wife and children died. He learns the tricks of living life as a tramp. He learns that the seasonal pay is good and once he earns it, he spends it on alcohol and women. He begins to tire of this lifestyle, however.

Ch. 23: Jurgis comes back to the city in the fall and finds work digging subway tunnels. It is dangerous work, where men are injured and die on a daily basis. Jurgis is injured on the job and goes to the hospital, where they give him the minimal amount of care and attention before sending him out into the winter cold before he's had a chance to completely recover. The hospital serves the patients canned and pickled meat from the meat packing factories that Jurgis knows is spoiled and diseased. Jurgis attends a revival meeting where an evangelist pastor preaches about "sin and redemption" (236). Jurgis feels that these preachers are out of touch, telling people to be ashamed of their sinful actions, while they do nothing to help the poor rise above their crushing circumstances. Jurgis describes the homeless and the beggars who develop elaborate systems to get money from passersby.

Ch. 24: Jurgis is reduced to begging on the streets because he cannot find work due to his tunneling injury. He meets Freddie Jones, drunken son of the packinghouse owner. He complains about what he perceives are the hardships of bourgeoisie life and takes Jurgis home. He gives him a hundred dollar bill to pay the taxi driver and Jurgis pockets it. Jurgis has dinner with Freddie at his home and is promptly removed from the home by the butler once Freddie passes out.

Ch. 25: Jurgis meets Duane again after he finds himself in jail a second time for beating a bartender who steals his hundred dollar bill when Jurgis asks him to change it. He decides to dedicate his life to crime and helps Duane mug people at night. When Duane flees the city because his associates turn against him, Jurgis makes friends with Scully's vote buyer, Harper. He is instructed by Scully to join a union and goes to work in packingtown to help Scully's candidate win an election. In this chapter we see how the Republican and Democratic parties are really two sides of the same coin, each helping the other buy votes for their chosen candidates by conferring citizenship on and paying off a new round of labor immigrants for their votes. This corrupt system even allows people to cast multiple votes for a candidate. Jurgis is finally making a decent living and has powerful friends, including Scully, who make life easy for him as long as he assists them in their criminal activities. We learn that Scully is ultimately responsible for the shoddy construction of the street outside of Jurgis's home that caused the accident that lead to his son's death.

Ch. 26: The unions go on strike in packingtown. Jurgis is advised by Scully to remain at work as a scab, where Jurgis negotiates a higher salary for himself. The packers, desperate to keep production going, hire unskilled, inexperienced workers from around the country. Jurgis becomes a supervisor and has a lot of trouble maintaining order among the new workers. They know that the packers desperately need them and take every opportunity to rest, moonlight at other factories, and slack off (the argument that capitalists often make is that workers become content and lazy if conditions are too good and that keeping unemployment up to a certain level at all times is necessary in order to keep the workers ready and eager to do their jobs). The strike ends briefly and then resumes when the packers break their promise not to punish/discriminate against the union leaders for the part they played in the strike. Jurgis sees Connor and attacks him again. When he is in jail, his friend, Hart, arranges an affordable bail for him so that he can escape because Jurgis knows he will be punished for attacking Connor again after Hart informs him that he is one of Scully's trusted agents.

Ch. 27: Jurgis cannot find work and resorts to begging again. He finds Marija working as a prostitute in a brothel and she tells him that this is the only way that the family could survive. Jurgis feels guilty for leaving them so abruptly. Marija tells him that he has nothing to apologize for. She tells him to go to Teta Elzbieta. Before he leaves, they are all arrested in a police raid.

Ch. 28: Jurgis and the prostitutes are set free after the madame pays a fine. He learns that most of the prostitutes (some who wandered into the profession as a last resort and some who were tricked into it, lured by the promise of respectable employment) are addicted to laudanuma, including Marija. The morphine addiction ensures that the prostitutes will be bound to their profession for life. The female slave trade in Chicago at this time is a profitable business. The traders can make up to fourteen dollars for every girl they bring into the profession. He also learns that Stanislovas was working in an oil factory, had a fondness for alcohol, got drunk one night, and passed out in the factory. When the workers returned the next morning, they found that he had been eaten by rats. After Jurgis leaves Marija, he does not go straight home to Elzbieta out of shame for his abrupt departure. He wanders into a socialist meeting and is inspired by the message.

Ch. 29: During the meeting he meets a party member, Ostrinsky, who explains the tenets of the socialist party to Jurgis. Jurgis begins to see how the system reduced him and his fellow laborers to the status of the animals they killed, profiting from their labor and disposing of them once the workers ceased to be useful. Jurgis stays over night with Ostrinsky before returning to Teta Elzbieta.

Ch. 30: Jurgis returns to Teta Elzbieta, who welcomes him back without judgment. He finds work as a porter at a hotel owned by a Socialist. His new boss encourages Jurgis to speak to people about his travails and includes him in all socialist meetings. This chapter covers some of the magazines and newspapers, such as Appeal to Reason, that featured literature written by and for the proletariat. Jurgis learns that the Railroad Trust owns most of the Senators and US House of Representatives, thereby controlling the United States government. The Beef Trust is at odds with the Railroad Trust because of the private car. The two trusts are battling it out for ownership of the United States.

Ch. 31: Teta Elzbieta's boys are "wild and unruly" because of their lives on the streets as newspaper sellers (341). Jurgis attends a meeting where different socialists discuss socialism. Dr. Schleiman and Comrade Lucas are among the speakers. The book ends with news of the tremendous gains the Socialist Party is making in all of the elections.

Works Cited

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2003.

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