The Jungle: Chapters 26-27
Chapters Twenty Six and Twenty Seven
Jurgis stays on in Packingtown after the elections and now has almost three hundred dollars in the bank. His job is easy and Scully says some more work for him may turn up soon.
Jurgis asks Aniele about Elzbieta and the family and discovers they have moved downtown. He then thinks no more of them. Instead, he socializes with unmarried young ‘fellows’ and visits music halls and saloons. He dresses well now and drinks and gambles.
In May, the agreement between the union and the packers expires and a strike is imminent. Jones (the father of Freddie) wants to lower the wages from sixteen and a half cents an hour to fifteen. A referendum is called and a strike is decided in June. Jurgis visits Scully and asks for work while the strike is on. Scully suggests he works as a ‘scab’ even though he had been reported in the newspapers that very morning denouncing the packers. He said if they did not treat the workers better the city authorities would tear their plants down. Jurgis wants to be of use to him in politics, but Scully says this is not possible as he is now known as a supporter of the Republicans.
So, Jurgis returns to work and breaks the strike. He profits by this action and is now earning twenty five dollars a week. He is given the position of foreman as there are now many positions to fill because of the strike. Initially, he tries to be helpful but soon becomes like his former bosses and loses his temper with the workers drafted in. Strike breakers are brought in by the packers from prisons and workhouses. African-Americans are enticed from the South and young women are persuaded to come to the city as they are told they will be packing fruit.
Despite these new workers, the strike remains strong at ninety percent of the workforce. After ten days, the strike is called off and the men are told they will not be discriminated against for walking out. However, this is not the case and another strike is called when the men see they have been tricked. The newspapers report there is a ‘seething caldron of passion’, but in truth there is no more violence than usual.
The narrative comes close to making moral judgements as we are told men and women shipped in from across the country are sleeping close together and there are many references to African-American men which are not always complimentary. There is an implied breakdown in sexual morality with these new workers. Jurgis begins to drink more as he despises himself for being an agent for trying to break the strike and rages at his men until they are exhausted. When he unexpectedly encounters Connor in the factory he beats him up once more and is arrested.
Harper initially agrees to help Jurgis secure the five hundred dollar bail until he realizes that Connor is ‘one of Scully’s biggest men’ and is afraid to assist in case Scully finds out. He does influence the reduction of the bail and encourages Jurgis to pay it and leave this area of Chicago. Harper’s disloyalty is emphasized as it is evident he intends to keep Jurgis’s money after he has gone.
Chapter Twenty Seven begins with the following sentence: ‘Poor Jurgis was now an outcast and a tramp once more.’ He tries to find work in factories, but there are many unemployed now as well those who are on strike. He is starving after ten days of looking for work. When he finds work in a warehouse, he is laid off as he is not strong enough to do the job and this almost breaks his spirit entirely.
Jurgis’s unhappiness is furthered as election time approaches again and he is able to contrast his previous life with his hardships now. To avoid the cold he attends a meeting which is addressed, ironically, by a Republican senator who had supported Doyle. Jurgis is thrown out, though, as his snoring is considered disruptive.
The narrative then shifts to his accidental encounter with Alena who had attended his wedding. She tells him where Marija is living and he decides to visit her. Just after being told by the person answering the door that she does not live there, the house is raided. He sees Marija then and it ensues that this is a brothel and she has been working as a prostitute. He discovers that Stanislovas has died after being inadvertently locked in a factory (he was then eaten by rats). Elzbieta works a little, but Marija is the one who mainly supports the family now. Marija has not seen Tamoszius for over a year as he went away after losing a finger.
Jurgis tries to assuage his sense of guilt and asks if she thinks he played a dirty trick by leaving them all behind. She replies no, and adds that they all used to be too ignorant and that they did not stand a chance. Furthermore, she says that they were starving then and when this is the case people have to sell anything with a price. By this she means that Ona could have supported them all if she had entered into prostitution.
He is then arrested with everybody else in the house and is afraid that he will be caught for skipping bail. He gives a false name and remembers his family whilst waiting in a police cell. It is pointed out that if these voices of his family die ‘the last faint spark of his manhood in his soul would flicker out.’
In these two chapters, the readers see Jurgis being a partisan to corruption and strike breaking and this is followed by Harper’s betrayal of him when he attacks Connor. The narrative is evidently leading the readers to regard his role of strike breaker as a disloyal one to his fellow men, and his later betrayal by Harper is to be expected considering the social circle he is living in.
The discussion with Marija highlights further how these previously upstanding immigrants have been soured and corrupted by living in the supposed free world of the United States. Marija’s view that those who are starving should sell anything with a price is not a reflection of her immorality. Instead, it exemplifies the impossible conditions of a capitalist society that demand that this happens.