The Jungle: Chapter 25
Out on the street in Chapter Twenty Five, Jurgis is pleased to have kept on to the hundred-dollar bill, but knows it will be difficult to change it. He faces more misfortune when a saloon worker agrees to change it for him, but holds back ninety nine dollars. This is extreme provocation leads Jurgis to attack him.
A policeman arrives and beats Jurgis and then takes him to a cell. He is given ten days in prison and this makes him cry with impotent rage. Jurgis does not realize that the owner pays five dollars a week in ‘protection’ money to the arresting policeman. Neither does he know that the bartender is a henchman of the district’s Democratic leader.
On his second day in prison he meets Jack Duane again. When he leaves prison, he immediately visits Jack in order to work with him as a criminal: together they rob a man.
The narrative shifts slightly to argue that the politicians and the police captain are not only aware of crime, but they also profit from it (with Sunday drinking, gambling and prostitution). The story returns to Jurgis and how he becomes involved in a wages scam with ‘Buck’ Halloran (who is introduced to him by Jack) who tells him he needs someone who looks like a workingman. Jurgis agrees to collect ‘wages’ for him under several different assumed names. He receives five dollars for doing this work and gains Halloran’s trust. He is also introduced to others as a trustworthy man.
Jurgis’s new position in society is indicated when, after being arrested, he sends for Halloran and receives bail. He is given a fine, but this is suspended because the clerk of the court is told that he is ‘a decent fellow’. Other crimes follow, including Jurgis brandishing a revolver to commit another robbery on a man.
Just as Jurgis is tiring of the ‘vicissitudes’ of miscellaneous crime and is considering being a politician, he is introduced to a man named Harper (who had been instrumental in Jurgis gaining American citizenship). He has a proposition for Jurgis which involves him gaining work in Packingtown again and trying to encourage his fellow workers to vote Republican. This is all on behalf of the Democrat Scully as he is swinging a deal on behalf of the Republicans. Scully has agreed to support them (quietly) in exchange for the Republicans not opposing him in his own ward next year for the position of alderman.
Harper’s influence means that Jurgis is no longer blacklisted and is now able to gain work trimming hogs. Before securing this position, Jurgis meets Scully and we are told that he is unaware of how Scully is responsible for the unpaved street where Antanas drowned and also appointed the magistrate who first sent Jurgis to prison.
Jurgis fulfils his role by pushing the workers to vote for Doyle, the Republican candidate. The political machinations of Scully are revealed as this campaign for Doyle has been paid for by a rich brewer who donated money to the Democrats to be their candidate. The chapter ends on an ironic note as the celebrations for Doyle’s victory are described: ‘… there was universal exultation over this triumph of popular government, this crushing defeat of an arrogant plutocrat by the power of the common people.’
This chapter highlights Jurgis’s involvement in crime and corruption. The novel has been careful to trace his descent from a highly moral, caring family man to one who is only concerned for his own well being. Because the novel is driven by strong socialist principles, it is unsurprising that Jurgis’s fall into crime is associated with the grinding poverty he has had to suffer. After the deaths of his wife and child, which are directly and indirectly caused by corruption and the functions of capitalism, it is made understandable that Jurgis is no longer able to abide by his previous moral decisions (of working hard and expecting to receive a fair wage). His experiences have taught him that ‘graft’ rather than moral courage are the means to survive.
More specifically, through the characterization of Jurgis, Sinclair is able to explain why criminal behavior is understandable in a society that is corrupt, and therefore criminal, from the top of the hierarchy downwards. It is only now that Jurgis has met men with influence that he is treated with understanding in court. Now that he is working as a thief and a tool of corruption he is living above the poverty level. This point is made clear in Chapter Twenty Six, but is becoming evident in this chapter too as references to hunger and abjection are omitted here.