The Jungle: Chapters 13-16
Whilst Jurgis is unemployed, Kristoforas dies. He is one of Elzbieta’s children and has not been named until this point in the narrative. The child suffered from rickets, a dislocation of the hip and a lack of immunity against colds. Jurgis says the child must be buried in a pauper’s grave, but Elzbieta refuses this and begs the required money from neighbors and Marija gives her ten dollars.
The narrative then shifts to Jurgis and how much he detests being unemployed. He also dreads the thought that he might have to sink so low as to work in the fertilizer plant, which has disgusting working conditions. On a hot, breathless day he is finally selected to shovel fertilizer on to carts. There is so much dust created by this effort that he can barely see to work. In addition, the phosphates soak into his skin. The smell is also unbearable. However, he becomes accustomed to even this and stays there.
The family decide together that Vilimas and Nikalojus should return to school as they are becoming too worldly wise and do not always return home on a night after selling their papers downtown. Elzbieta is to work instead and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Kotrina is to care for the remaining children. The chapter ends with Elzbieta finding work in a sausage factory.
Chapter Fourteen begins with descriptions of how nothing is wasted in the meat industry, and this includes spoiled meat. If ham smells disgusting, for example, it is injected with a strong ‘pickle’ to destroy the smell. In addition, it is revealed that rats converge on the waste products which are used to fill the sausages.
Ona, Elzbieta and Jurgis are all beaten down with work now and for the first time Jurgis begins to drink alcohol more regularly. He does still try to restrain his ‘thirst’, though. His son Antanas is a year old now and Ona is pregnant again. She is also ill and coughs and cries endlessly. She is described as ‘visibly going to pieces’.
In Chapter Fifteen, Ona fails to return home in a snowstorm and tells Jurgis that she stayed at a friend’s home (Jadvyga). He discovers she has lied, however, when she fails to reach home again (just before Christmas). Because he is worried for her safety, he visits Jadvyga who informs him that Ona is not there and has never stayed overnight.
Ona finally admits that she has been to Miss Henderson’s house and that Connor (her boss) took her there. She was blackmailed into going as Connor told her that all her family would lose their positions if not. It is strongly implied rather than stated clearly that he has blackmailed her into having sex with him. This chapter finishes with Jurgis racing to the works and beating Connor. Jurgis is finally brought down by several men and is taken to the police station.
Chapter Sixteen recounts Jurgis’s experience with the justice system. In court, Justice Callahan is presiding. He is notorious in Packingtown for his harsh judgements. He is also politically powerful and became a magistrate after seeking respectability as a former keeper of brothels. He is known for his ‘strong conservatism and his contempt for foreigners’. A lawyer for the company appears in court and asks that Jurgis be remanded for a week. The bail is set at three hundred dollars. Jurgis’s family is, of course, unable to meet this high demand and he is taken to the county prison on Christmas Eve. In his cell, his soul grows blacker. He does not understand that the ‘system’ is crushing him. Instead, he can only see that he has been wronged and ‘that the law, that society, with all its powers, had declared itself a foe’.
The invasion of work into the lives of these individuals is further emphasized with the blackmail of Ona. The story of her abuse, which is inflicted by her boss, Connor, is a direct critique of sexual harassment and is also a figurative enactment of the control of wage slavery. These workers are tied to their unforgiving work as though in bondage to the Beef Trust, and when Ona is forced to have sex with her boss the narrative continues to reiterate the divisive role that capitalism plays between individuals. The novel begins with Ona and Jurgis in love and recently married. At this point, they had only been in the United States for several months. Now, however, they have become ground down by work and poverty to the point that they have become strangers to each other.
As well as causing the breakdown in relations between Ona and Jurgis, wage slavery has also caused Jurgis to have a complete break with notions of fairness and equality. This becomes hardened all the more when he is taken to the county prison and begins to see the world as his enemy.