This book was written in 1905. Upton Sinclair hated big business and was against capitalism. He wrote this novel to demonstrate how businesses controlled people’s lives and how lots of men were greedy. Sinclair wanted America to be a socialist nation (that means everyone makes the same amount and there are no rich and no poor people). The novel’s title refers to the American jungle of factory, where only the strong survive and people act and get treated like animals.
Jurgis Rudkus: He is the main dude of the story. He is Lithuanian and gets pushed around by the system. He starts off at a low point and goes into a life of crime. Then he is saved by becoming a socialist.
Ona: She is Jurgis’ wife. She is eighteen and leads a crappy life in America. She works hard, gets paid almost nothing, and gets sick. In the end, she becomes a hooker, has a baby, and dies with the baby.
Marija Berczynskas: She is Ona’s cousin. She starts off as a strong woman with a job, making some cash and helping out her family. She has a good head on her shoulders. By the end, she’s a hooker and a druggie. What happened to her? She threw away her "old school Lithuanian beliefs" and started doing whatever it took to survive in the USA, which meant being a ho.
Teta Elzbieta Lukoszaite: Ona’s stepmom. She is an older woman. She hangs on to the old school teachings of Lithuania. In the end she gets sick and is supported by Marija the hooker.
Jonas: Elzbieta’s brother. He has the bright idea of going to the USA. In the story, he takes his pay and one day just takes off.
Stanislovas Lukoszaite: One of Elzbieta’s sons. He is fourteen. First he works in the factory, then he works selling newspapers. One day he gets drunk, passes out, and rats eat him up. That’s really gross!
During the day, Jurgis and Ona get married in Chicago. All the guests are drunk and have to go back to work in the stockyards. Jurgis and Ona are pissed because Lithuanian tradition is for the guests to chip in and pay for the wedding. But now that they’re in the USA, people are damn freeloaders and don’t give them a dime. So Jurgis and Ona are stuck with this big-ass wedding bill.
Then the book starts talking about how the two lovebirds met at a fair in Lithuania and fell in love. But they couldn’t get married because Ona’s dad didn’t approve of Jurgis. Then the dad died, so Ona’s stepmom, Elzbieta, told them to go to the USA. So they went with all these other people (Elzbieta’s other kids) to America.
They arrived in America and got crappy factory jobs. Ona got a job sewing and 14 year old Stanislovas got a job, too. They saw how corrupt America was when they were hired by these guys who took a cut of their salary and butchered infected meat and shipped it to the public. They family all bought a house which they couldn't afford. found out the house wasn’t even a new one. The whole family just gets jerked around. With all these jobs, they could afford a wedding for Ona and Jurgis.
Then the book goes back to the present. After the wedding, they work and are all tired as hell. Then Jurgis’ dad dies. He sets up a cheap funeral. Winter comes and nobody has heat. Marija loses her job, Jurgis’ factory loses business, and Jurgis gets paid half for a full day of work. He starts getting pissed. Jurgis joins the worker’s union, and learns English. He learns about democracy and finds out how corrupt these factory dudes are -- they sell rotten meat, and don’t protect workers from "hazards." So he becomes a citizen and rocks the vote by voting for some democratic union boss (and he didn’t even need the MTV bus there to urge him on). Then lots of time passes. Marija gets her job back. Ona has a baby.
Just when you think things can’t get any worse… they do. Jurgis is injured on the job. Elzbieta’s boys quit school and sell newspapers. Elzbieta gets a job. The whole group scrambles and everyone works to make ends meet. Jurgis gets better and gets a job at some farm. Then he becomes a boozer. Ona gets pregnant again. Jurgis finds out she’s doing it with one of the bosses. The boss , Phil Connors, told her she had to have sex with him or else everyone in her family would get fired. Jurgis beats the crap out of Phil and goes to jail. While he’s in jail, Ona gets sick, Marija loses her job again, and they are poor as dirt.
Jurgis gets out of jail. He finds out his family was kicked out of the house and they are all living in some lodging house. Ona goes into labor and has a miscarriage. She dies. Jurgis still has a baby boy. He gets job after job and loses them. Then his baby boy drowns and Jurgis is really depressed (can ya blame him?). He becomes a bum and wanders around Chicago doing odd jobs and begging for money.
Then he gets cheated by some bartender, beats him up and goes back to jail. In jail he learns how crime and the Mafia system works. He gets released and does some undercover work for the Democratic boss. He takes bribes and makes some money. Then he beats up Phil Connors again and goes back to jail. Then he tracks down Marija. She is now a hooker. Stanislovas is dead.
Then Jurgis goes to live with Elzbieta and her kids. One day he goes to a political rally and becomes a socialist. He gets a job in a hotel. The book ends on election night and Jurgis is at some Socialist rally.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
CHAPTERS 3 – 4
- Jurgis’ deli friend showed him around the factories. Jurgis was happy after being picked out for a factory job.
- He saw the cattle being slaughtered and how all the rotten meat was not being thrown out. He saw all the corruption and dirty crap going on.
- Jurgis learned the factory policy of "don’t ask don’t tell."
- Jurgis started his job. Jonas and Marija got jobs. Ona and Elzbieta decided to stay home and take care of the kids.
- Jurgis sent the children to school.
- Jurgis saw an ad for a house, so he decided to buy it. A lying real estate agent conned them into renting some crappy house.
- Was supposed to be new, but it wasn’t. Because they are all Lithuanian and didn’t know English very well, they misread the contract and didn’t realize it’s too rich for their blood.
- They thought everything was okay, but they didn’t know that the monthly payments were way too high.
CHAPTERS 5 – 6
- The author writes about advertisements, and how they sucker Jurgis and his family into buying crap.
- They bought something on an "installment" (layaway) plan.
- They can’t afford anything they buy.
- Jurgis’ factory bosses made the men work harder. Jurgis didn’t mind, but the union tries to fight it.
- Antanas gets a job. The guy who hired him takes 1/3 of his pay. Jurgis learned this corruption is normal.
- Jurgis found out Jonas got his job because the guy before him got sick. His family members got jobs from people who are sick or dead.
- Jurgis and Ona want to get married, but they had to wait until they had enough money (remember, these are flashbacks).
- They found out their house wasn’t new. They also found out about lots of hidden costs added to the monthly payments which they can’t afford.
- Jurgis said he would work harder but he couldn’t make enough money. Elzbieta got a job and so did her 14 year old son, Stanislovas. He got a priest to lie and certify him as 16 year old so he can work.
CHAPTERS 7 – 8
- This chapter starts in the present right after the wedding. Jurgis and Ona are in debt because nobody helped pay for the wedding.
- The author starts describing all the crappy things in their lives that can harm them. He talks about the diseased factories and stuff.
- Winter hits and everyone is cold as hell. The weak workers get fired. Everyone gets sick.
- There’s a place called Whiskey Row where workers can get a meal and warmth for the cost of two drinks.
- Jurgis’ factory slows down. He works the same hours but is paid less. Marija then loses her job at her factory.
- Jurgis joins a union. At first he didn’t have a problem with the factory ways, but now he hates them.
CHAPTERS 9 – 10
- Jurgis takes classes to learn English.
- Some dude from the Democratic party helps Jurgis become a citizen and register to vote. Then he gets Jurgis a half-day off with pay to vote for the Democratic candidate. Basically, Jurgis was paid to vote a certain way.
- Jurgis voted for Mike Scully. Scully says he is for the working man, but really he’s a greedy dick.
- The author starts talking about all the corruption and bad stuff that happens in Packingtown. They mislabel cans of spoiled meat so it appears good. There is no protection for the workers from disease.
- Marija is still unemployed. We find out she got fired for challenging the boss.
- Jurgis is now working twice as hard for crap pay.
- Ona’s job sucks. Her co-workers are all hookers on the side. Ona is yelled at by her bosses. She is afraid they’ll ask her for sexual favors.
- Ona has a baby boy. The factory makes her return to work a week after having the baby. This damages her womb.
CHAPTERS 11 – 12
- There is a strike. The factories hire more workers. Jurgis loses out on overtime pay.
- Winter comes.
- Jurgis is injured and can’t go to work. They dip into the savings account to survive.
- Jurgis tries to work while injured but it doesn’t work out.
- When he gets better he goes back and finds out some other dude now has his job.
- Jonas takes his pay and disappears. They don’t blame him.
- To make ends meet for the group, Elzbieta’s kids leave school and get jobs selling newspapers.
CHAPTERS 13 – 14
- Their lives get worse and worse. They are poor and everyone is sick or dead.
- Jurgis gets a job at a really unsafe fertilizer plant.
- Elzbieta’s boys are now into smoking, drinking, and gambling.
- Elzbieta gets a job in a crappy sausage factory.
- The sausage factory Elzbieta works in is dirty. The author describes how the meat is filled with disease, rat poop, rat poison, and tuberculosis germs.
- Everyone is depressed as hell. Jurgis starts to drink.
- Ona is pregnant again and very sick.
CHAPTERS 15 – 16
- It’s November. One day Ona doesn’t come home. She tells Jurgis that she caught in a snowstorm and stayed with a friend.
- Then it happens again. Jurgis goes to the friend’s house and Ona is not there.
- Jurgis goes to her place of work and does not find her. Then he sees her on a trolley.
- He follows Ona home. One confesses she’s been staying with her boss (Phil Connors) in a whorehouse. Jurgis chokes her. Ona tells him he told her he would fire everyone in the family is she didn’t give up some sex for him.
- Jurgis hunts down Phil Connors. He beats him up and rips off his cheek. Jurgis is arrested.
- Jurgis goes to jail for attacking the dude.
- He gets a week in the county jail.
- He reevaluates his life while he’s in prison.
- Jurgis decides he will start to rebel against everything that sucks.
CHAPTERS 17 – 18
- Jurgis is still in jail. He gets a cell-mate who is smart and young named Duane.
- Duane tells Jurgis about how the world works and all the corruption in Chicago. He lets him know about all the crime. They decide together the real crooks are the businessmen who own the factories.
- Jurgis spends thirty more days in jail. Stanislovas visits him and tells him Ona is sick, Marija is injured, and Elzbieta lost her job.
- Jurgis does his time and is released from jail.
- He walks twenty miles back home. He finds out his family lost their house and moved to some lodging house.
- He goes to the lodging house and Ona is having a miscarriage. He tries to get a midwife (someone who delivers babies) but can’t get one.
CHAPTERS 19 – 20
- Jurgis finally finds a midwife.
- The midwife is a very fat disgusting woman named Madame Haupt.
- The midwife takes over and Jurgis goes to sleep. When he wakes up he goes back and finds that is baby is dead and Ona is almost dead.
- Ona dies and then Jurgis gets drunk.
- The family has no money for a funeral, so the city buries in her some field.
- Jurgis can’t get a job because he is blacklisted (this means his name has been passed around town as a guy not to hire).
- Jurgis gets a job at some factory. He makes farm equipment.
- Jurgis likes the new factory. It is big and has lots of neat stuff.
- He has to walk to work everyday.
- One day, his department is closed.
CHAPTERS 21 – 22
- Jurgis is fired from the factory and pissed off at the system.
- He begs for work. He gets money from Elzbieta’s kids. He uses this money for food.
- Jurgis gets a job at a steel mill.
- One day at the job, he saves a worker from getting burned by hot molten lava. The factory does not recognize him as being a hero. He is out for eight days with no pay cause he is injured.
- Remember, he is still taking care of his first child.
- After work one rainy day, Jurgis finds that his baby boy has drowned in the flooded streets.
- Jurgis’ life really sucks.
- Jurgis vows to change. He is going to start doing things for himself. He starts to get selfish.
- He’s a new man, not giving in to the "system" anymore. He takes what he wants and fights for his rights. He’s not going take crap from anybody.
- He becomes a bum, wandering around. He hides in the woods.
CHAPTER 23 – 24
- In the winter, Jurgis returns to Chicago. He gets some job digging tunnels for the subway.
- He gets injured on the job and stays in the hospital. He is there until after Xmas.
- After he is discharged, he has no place to go. He becomes a beggar and sleeps in churches for warmth.
- He goes to bars a lot because they have cheap food and drink.
- Then the book starts talking about how Jurgis is feeling. He feels like dirt.
- Jurgis realizes the world is ruled by greed and people taking advantage of other people, and that he has lost in that battle.
- Then Jurgis sees Freddie Jones, the son of one of the meat tycoons. Freddie invites Jurgis to come home with him. Freddie gives Jurgis $100 to pay for the cab. Jurgis keeps the money for himself.
- They talk over a meal, and then Freddie passes out. Jurgis leaves the mansion.
CHAPTERS 25 – 26
- Jurgis takes the $100 bill to a bar to get change. The bartender tries to cheat him and Jurgis attacks him. Jurgis goes to jail again
- He sees his pal, Duane, again. After they get out of jail, they start robbing people together by hurting them.
- Duane shows Jurgis all the criminal stuff in Chicago. He shows him where all the big crime dudes hang out.
- Jurgis starts learning how corrupt the system is and how people cheat the system. Bosses write out imaginary paychecks and give them to themselves.
- Jurgis goes to work for Mike Scully, the Democratic boss. He goes undercover in the factory to get votes for Scully.
- The system is so corrupt that the Democrats and Republicans have struck a deal so they already know who will get elected.
- The Republicans promised Scully they wouldn’t run a competitor for his position if Scully promised that a Republican candidate, Scotty Doyle, would get another position.
- Jurgis pays people to vote for Doyle. Doyle wins and Jurgis gets drunk.
- The factory workers go on strike. At first Jurgis goes on strike with them, then he changes sides and breaks the picket line to go work.
- Jurgis looks out for his own good, so he helps the factory men break up the strike. He beats up strikers to scare them into going back to work.
- Jurgis gets a job as a boss of a section of the factory.
- Jurgis then sees Phil Connors again and attacks him again. Jurgis goes back to jail.
- Connors has more "pull" and connections than Jurgis does, so Jurgis can’t get out of jail easily. Finally, he bails himself out and goes to another part of Chicago.
CHAPTERS 27 – 28
- By this point, Jurgis realizes that life sucks but ya gotta deal with it.
- He can’t find a job, and eats at soup kitchens. One day he is cold and goes into some political rally.
- At the rally, Jurgis sees a friend and finds out Marija is now a hooker. He goes to see her and they get arrested.
- Marija gives him the family update. Elzbieta has a job, and Stanislovas was eaten by rats.
- Jurgis is surprised that a nice girl like Marija is now a hooker.
- Jurgis is freed by the police. He goes back to the brothel and finds out that Marija is a druggie.
- Jurgis gets Elzbieta’s address. Before going to her house though., he goes back to that political rally.
- He starts listening to the speech and starts getting interested. The rally is a Socialist rally and the speaker is talking about how bad greed is, and how workers are treated like crap.
- Jurgis agrees with the speech.
CHAPTERS 29 – 31
- At the rally, they send Jurgis to a Polish tailor who is a Socialist. He teaches Jurgis everything about Socialism.
- Socialism basically takes out competition. People can’t undersell anyone and everyone makes the same decent living.
- Jurgis gets a job at a hotel owned by Tommy Hinds, a Socialist.
- Jurgis lives with Elzbieta now. He starts taking a stand and trying to change things. He goes to the Democratic rally and tells people that votes are bought.
- Jurgis goes to visit Marija and asks her to quit being a hooker. She refuses, and keeps selling her body.
- The next day the votes are tallied up on Election Day -- the Socialists have a strong showing of 6300 votes.
- Jurgis goes out to the cheering crowd and the book just kinda ends there.
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