A French philosopher once said that the greatest tyranny of democracy was whenthe minority ruled the majority. Upton Sinclairs The Jungle gives the readera great example of exactly this. A man who earns his living honestly and throughhard work will always be trapped in poverty, but a man who earns his livingthrough lies and cheating will be wealthy. The Jungle portrays a Lithuanianfamily stuck in a Capitalistic country. It shows the ongoing struggle of a lowerclass that will never get farther in life as long as the minority of rich peoplerule over them.
The Jungle conveys a struggle between Capitalism and Socialism.
Socialism is the best way out for the peasants, but a Capitalistic America hasalready trapped them. When Jurgis Rudkus and his family first come to America,they do not know how it was run. Once Jurgis begins working in the stockyards,he finds out that the upper class dominates over the lower class. SupposedlyAmerica is a democratic nation, but this is not true.
Capitalism rules thenation. The upper class bosses rule what goes on in the peasants lives. It is aform of slavery. Sinclair writes: Things that were quite unspeakable went onthere in the packing houses all the time, and were taken for granted byeverybody; only they did not show, as in old slavery times, because there was nodifference in color between master and slave. (106) Sinclair compares theconditions of the factories to that of slavery. The rich boss is the master andthe peasant is the lowly slave. Capitalism rules in the stockyards of Chicago.
The higher class people can get ahead in life because they have an in with thesystem, but the peasants will forever be stuck at their work on the machines ina packing plant. Jurgis Rudkus endures the work in the factory system. He comesacross Capitalism first hand here. Through his work in the meat packing plant,he sees how they are able to work around government regulation through bribesand deceit. He also soon learns that everyone steals from the people below themin the system. Sinclair writes, …the bosses grafted off the men, and theygrafted off each other; and someday the superintendent would find out about theboss, and then he would graft off the boss (59). Sinclair reveals that men ofa higher status were able to steal freely from others and get away with it. Ifone found out, he just stole right back from another. This was Capitalism in andof itself. Here, in the stockyards of Chicago, the upper class rules over thelower class. In Packingtown, Jurgis Rudkus and his family face many difficultieswith the Capitalistic rule. The people take advantage of them and steal theirmoney. When they first came to America, they had to pay many fees because theywere foreigners and did not know better. Eventually, Jurgis decides to buy ahouse. He thinks he is getting a good deal, but in reality is not. The realestate agent tells him that it is a brand new house, but this is a lie. Sinclairwrites, …it was not new at all, as they had supposed; it was about fifteenyears old, and there was nothing new upon it but the paint (65). The realestate agent took advantage of them because they were lower class. He was ableto do so because they did not know any better. The upper class ruled over them.
They lived in a Capitalistic nation that trapped them as lower class citizens.
The Capitalistic way of life allows for a lot of corruption in the governmentand police department. Many people pay off high officials in order to get leadway in court and other places. Men who own saloons pay the police so they cansell liquor on Sundays. At one point in the book Jurgis beats up a bartenderbecause he will not give him his change for a hundred dollar bill. The bartenderdoes not get in trouble for this because he has paid people off. Sinclairwrites, …the owner of the saloon had paid five dollars each to thepolicemen alone for Sunday privileges and general favors (249). This was acommon thing among many bartenders. Capitalism involved the police, government,and common people. If one had the money, then he could get special privileges inlife. After hoboing around the country and going to jail, Jurgis comesacross a man by the name of Jack Duane for the second time. It is now when hebecomes involved with politics. Jurgis and Duane help to get votes. The systemis full of corruption. Jurgis becomes a Democrat, but actually helps to getvotes for the Republicans. Lies make up the government as a whole. One criticwrites, The democratic institutions which might have provided a means ofchange have all been bought off by the Machine. The opportunity torise causes men to betray their fellow workers and countrymen (TheJungle 3096). Democracy does not help anyone apart from its institution atthis point in time. It helps few to rise, but causes many to betray others. Thegovernment corrupts society and those who work for it. Sinclair writes: …He,Scully, would elect him with the sheenys money, and the Republicansmight have the glory…. In return for this the Republicans would agree to putup no candidate the following year, when Scully himself came up for reelectionas the other alderman for the ward. (259) Capitalism plays a big role ingovernment affairs. It helps move others forward in politics. Scully is able topull this off because he holds a high position and has a lot of money. He is abig man in the business and can get what he wants with his money. It isCapitalism along with greed and power that leads to the corruption ingovernment. Jurgis Rudkus gets out of his business with the government and findsa regular job towards the end of the book. He becomes heavily involved withSocialism during this period. One critic writes that the conversion of Jurgis toSocialism is really impossible after his soul has been murdered (Brooks 382).
Jurgis really wanted to find a way to better the working conditions in thefactories. It is not entirely impossible because Jurgis was still strong andwilling to fight. Jon A. Yoder writes: By the end of The Jungle theprotagonist has become a thoroughly convinced socialist, part of the socialmovement that he and Sinclair expected to turn Chicago into a place fit forAmericans. (501) This is really what Jurgis Rudkus hopes to achieve. He wants toimprove working conditions and establish a better pay. It is possible for Jurgisto become a Socialist. For the last few chapters of The Jungle, Jurgis fightswith the Socialist party. He converts many to his side. Jurgis sees Socialism asa way to solve many problems. Sinclair writes, …it was the task ofSocialists to teach and organize them for the time when they were to seize thehuge machine called the Beef Trust… (317). The Socialists plan is tobring down Capitalism and run the Beef trust properly. They intend to change itand make actual food instead of figuring out how to make as a big a fortune aspossible. One critic writes, The Socialism he preached implied a humanability (collectively expressed) to master that system (The Jungle3096). The goal of the Socialists is exactly this. They plan to clean up thefactory system and master it, to make it better and fairer. Socialism is toconquer Capitalism and make a better America. Capitalism versus Socialism is acommon theme throughout The Jungle. Jurgis Rudkus chances upon both in differentways. He is a victim to Capitalism, a member of Socialism. He battles Capitalismwith Socialism. For him, Socialism seems to be the best way of life, while forothers Capitalism is. Capitalism and Socialism make up much of society and forthe rest of time there will be people on both sides; neither will ever dominatethe country.
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Kazin, Alfred. On Native Grounds. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1942. Magill,Frank N. and Kohler, Dayton, eds. The Jungle. Masterplots. vol. 6.
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