The Jungle: Chapters 21-24
It takes Jurgis two days to recover from the disappointment of losing the job at the Harvester Trust, but then goes out again to search for work for ten days. He is only able to eat because of the pittance the children give him (which they are earning from selling newspapers).
The family have a little luck, though, when Jouzapas, who is another of Elzbieta’s children and has only one leg, is raking the dump for food. A well-dressed woman asks him about his circumstances. She is a ‘settlement worker’ and comes to their home to see the conditions. After this, the woman sends them food and leaves a letter of introduction for Jurgis to work at a steel mill. The steelworks are fifteen miles away and when he secures a job there he stays in the area all week to save money on transport.
It is extremely dangerous in the steelworks and he has the skin on his hand burned when helping two workers who have been sprayed with liquid fire. At this time, Elzbieta finds a cleaning job and Marija returns to work as a beef trimmer. Just as Jurgis allows himself to feel hopeful again, catastrophe occurs once more. Antanas has died – he drowned in the street.
Chapter Twenty Two begins with Jurgis in shock. He walks out of the family home and carries on walking. Spontaneously, he jumps on to a freight car and travels into the country. This is the first time he has left the city in three years. He alights from the car and immerses himself in a stream and washes his clothes. He even ventures ‘to dream that he might get rid of the fertilizer’.
He then sets off walking and stops at a farm to ask if he can buy some food. He is told that they do not feed tramps, so on leaving the property he uproots a hundred young peach trees: ‘ … from now on he was a fighting man.’ He stops at another farm and buys a meal and sleeps in the barn. This farmer offers him work until November. Jurgis asks the farmer if he turns his horses out when the snow comes. The readers are pointedly told that he is ‘beginning to think for himself nowadays’.
He continues on his way and his life as a tramp begins. At long last he feels as though he is his own master. In July, he joins a harvesting gang and weeks for two weeks solid. He spends his earnings in a day on debauchery and carries on travelling. This is a complex time for him and his grief for his son is made explicit when he sees the woman of the house he is visiting bathing her baby. At such times he feels like he is in a ‘mire of his own vileness’.
Early in the fall, in Chapter Twenty Three, Jurgis sets out for Chicago and brings fifteen dollars with him. He gains work (in a tunnel) after telling the interviewer that he is from Kansas City and has never worked in Chicago. He lies because he is wary of being blacklisted, and is given the job. Once he begins, he discovers that he is working in freight tunnels, which will connect all the big factories when completed. The company owners hope these will undermine the strength of the unions (especially the teamsters).
At this time, Jurgis begins to frequent saloons more often as he now has no family life to consider. His work is dangerous and this is proven when his arm is broken when struck by a loaded car. He spends Christmas in hospital, ‘and it was the pleasantest Christmas he had had in America’. He has to leave after two weeks, though, and is unable to find work as his injury is still healing. Because he is not working, he cannot afford his lodgings.
It is now January 1904. He has no overcoat to protect him from the cold and decides to attend a religious revival meeting in order to keep warm. He considers the preachers to be out of touch with ‘life’ as they talk about sin and redemption. He also views these men as ‘part of the order established that was crushing men down and beating them’. This chapter ends with him having spent six days on the streets and being forced into begging through lack of other alternatives.
In Chapter Twenty Four, Jurgis feels that there is no place for him in the world. However, this chapter describes an unusual ‘adventure’ that begins when he is begging from the theater crowds. He begs from a young, drunk gentleman (Freddie), who then invites Jurgis to his home. Freddie shows him a bundle of notes and Jurgis is tempted to steal from him. He resists this thought, though, and Freddie then peels a note off for Jurgis to pay the fare. It is a hundred- dollar bill. Because of Freddie’s drunken state, he either does not care about the amount or has not realized what he has given Jurgis. He is able to keep on to the note as the butler pays the fare when they reach Freddie’s home.
Here, Jurgis fully understands how wealthy this young man is and compares the house to ‘a hotel or city hall’. It transpires that Freddie’s father is Jones, a ‘packer’, a Beef Trust man. When told about this, Jurgis stammers that yes he has heard of him, as he has previously worked for him. This adventure ends when Freddie falls asleep and the butler ejects Jurgis from the premises.
After the death of Antanas, and Jurgis’s spontaneous decision to leave Chicago, we are made privy to his choice to become his own master. This lasts whilst he is able to stay on the road and his lifestyle is made bearable by the warmer weather. He is freer than he has ever been in the United States as he is no longer a slave to the grinding work he is used to. This freedom is made clear in a figurative sense when he strips and immerses himself in a stream. This act has Christian overtones in terms of suggesting Jurgis is washing himself clean of the sins of the world. By washing his clothes and hoping to eradicate the lingering smell of fertilizer, he is also attempting to take control of his destiny – to be his own master.
His return to Chicago allows the narrative to continue its critique of capitalism and the Beef Trust in particular when Jurgis unexpectedly visits the home of Freddie Jones. His father is one of the packers and has made such an immense fortune from the labor of workers such as Jurgis that Freddie is able to dole out hundred-dollar bills without a thought.