The Jungle Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Jungle: Metaphor Analysis

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When Jurgis returns to Chicago after living as a tramp, he finally locates Marija in a brothel. Her work as a prostitute is written of as a possible scenario for a woman who has little or no opportunity to make the necessary living to support a family. Sinclair refuses to condemn Marija or other sex workers for moral decrepitude; instead, her position of female bondage is written of sympathetically. This examination of prostitution, given through the account of Marija’s experiences, is also a figurative example of how the worker sells his or her body and soul to survive in a capitalist society. As she says, if one is starving then one must sell whatever has a price.
Furthermore, the final chapter draws direct comparisons between marriage and prostitution. This point has been argued by feminists for decades and Sinclair is evidently a forerunner in siting the oppression of women in the home as well as the workplace.
Slaughter of animals
When Jurgis and his family first arrive at the stockyards, they are given a tour of Durham’s and they and the readers are introduced to how the animals are slaughtered then used up by this massive ‘porkmaking machine’. Towards the end of the novel, when Jurgis has become a convert to socialism, he relates how he used to be thankful that he was not a hog. Now that he understands the full implications of how the Beef Trust manipulates their workers for maximum profit, he begins to realize that symbolically he has been treated no better than the animals. Throughout the narrative we are told of how firms such as Durham’s use up all the possible parts of the animal and nothing is wasted. Similarly, the workers are de-humanized and the life is figuratively and literally extracted from them for the increase of the Trust’s wealth.
Smell of fertilizer
Although desperate for work, Jurgis dreads the thought of gaining work in the fertilizer mill. It is dirty, disgusting work that is even worse than the other jobs that have previously been described (such as working in the pickle room). Once he begins shovelling it up, he instantly feels ill and the phosphates enter his skin. The smell of the fertilizer continues to linger on his body and clothes for a long time after he has to leave.
The odour comes to symbolize the level of his abjection because among the many terrible jobs he knows about this is the most degrading and is widely considered to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. The smell of the fertilizer represents his now degraded position. It is not until he begins to live as a tramp in the countryside that he is able to immerse himself and his clothes and begin to wash the fertilizer away. This comes at a time when he decides that he is now his own master. By deciding to try to remove this smell, he demonstrates his separation from wage slavery.


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