The Jungle: Chapters 17-20
Jurgis becomes friendly with his cellmate, Jack Duane, who tells Jurgis that he cracks safes but has been charged with disorderly conduct. The narrative shifts to a broader perspective and uses this opportunity to argue that those in the justice system are greater crooks than the ones who are imprisoned.
After a week in prison, and pointed comments about the smell of his clothes, Jurgis is taken back to court. He tries to explain his situation (about Connor), but he is not believed and is given thirty days in prison. Here, he must break stones all day.
He receives a visit from Stanislovas who has been sent to get help from Jurgis (although this is impossible) and then tells Jurgis all the family’s disastrous news. Ona is extremely ill and has tried and failed to get her job back, and Marija cannot work as she has badly injured her hand. Stanislovas has lost his job as he would not go out in the snow and is now selling newspapers with the boys and Kotrina, and the sausage department has closed down so Elzbieta is unemployed again. She has to beg for money instead. Jurgis feels as though his life is being crushed out of him and gives Stanislovas all he has, which is fourteen cents.
Jurgis is released from prison in Chapter Eighteen and has to walk home. He is shocked to discover that his family no longer lives there. It has been painted a different color and the ‘owner’ informs Jurgis that she was told that this is a new house and that she is the first person to live there, which is also what the agents told him. He finally traces his family to Aniele’s, which is where they all lodged on their arrival in Packingtown. Jurgis breaks down when he thinks of all the struggles they have undergone to try to keep up with the payments for their property (including the death of his father). This chapter ends with Jurgis reaching Aniele’s house at the time when Ona is prematurely giving birth to their child. The women collect the little money they have between them and urge Jurgis to leave to fetch a midwife.
In Chapter Nineteen, Jurgis finds a midwife named Madame Haupt. After repeatedly telling her he has only a little money, she eventually agrees to come to his home. She tends to Ona and Jurgis stays away, as instructed by Marija. He sits in a saloon, but because of the smell of fertilizer on his clothes he has to stay on the cellar steps out of the way of the other customers.
When he returns home, he is told the baby has died and Ona is extremely weak and could also die. He watches her and she looks at him for an instant, but then also dies. She is barely eighteen. Kotrina then returns from selling newspapers and Jurgis asks for her money. He leaves for the saloon where he buys whisky.
Jurgis returns home from drinking in Chapter Twenty and is reprimanded by Aniele for spending whilst the children are starving. She sends him up to the garret (where Ona is) as his clothes stink so much and here he gives himself over to grief. Elzbieta has begged the money for Ona’s mass and has bought a little bread for the children.
Jurgis promises to find work, but the bosses will not take him back at the fertilizer mill. A week later he is offered work, but is turned away the next day. It is implied but not stated that this is because of the fight he had with Connor. He realizes he is now on a blacklist and will not find work in the area. For two weeks he stays downtown to look for work and has to sleep rough.
He finally has some luck, however, when he has an accidental meeting with an old union acquaintance. He helps Jurgis find a job in the giant factories of the Harvester Trust. The working conditions are wonderful and are described in detail. The workshops, for example, are spacious; there is a subsidized restaurant; and a reading room. However, after only nine days the workers are told that the harvester works are closed until further notice.
With Jurgis’s stay in prison, the narrative takes the opportunity to critique the people who judge the minor criminals and argues that the judiciary and police are at least as corrupt as those they are punishing.
The influence of corruption may also be found when Jurgis leaves prison and finds he is now on a blacklist. Once more, his existence is shaped and controlled by external forces that have no concern for fairness or quality of life. The only glimpse of happiness is found in his brief work for the Harvester Trust. This is also the means by which the narrative can describe the ideal working conditions.