The Jungle: Chapters 4-6
Chapter Four describes Jurgis’s first day at work and how he has been employed to sweep entrails into a trap. He does not want Elzbieta or Ona to work and he believes the children (Elzbieta’s six offspring) should attend school and learn English. His father, Antanas, also wants to find work, but is overlooked by the employers as he is deemed too old (and therefore too slow).
The whole family wishes to buy a house and the women and Jokubas visit an agent to do this. Jokubas is able to speak and read English and he is given the responsibility of reading the contract to ensure the family is not cheated. He is troubled by the word ‘rental’, as the family wish to purchase a house. They find a lawyer and bring him back to the agent and he assures them the contract is fine, but they are perturbed that the agent and lawyer know each other. After checking with a second lawyer, they are assured again that they have not been swindled. All twelve of them are to live in this ‘new’ four-roomed house.
In Chapter Five, it is detailed how they need to obtain credit to furnish this house, which adds to their later financial difficulties. Jurgis is then described as speaking freely of how he enjoys work and discovers that most of his colleagues hate it. They also hate the bosses, the owners, the workplace, neighborhood and city and say that he will also come to feel like this. As a further sign of his individualistic understanding of labor, Jurgis is also unwilling to join the union.
Furthermore, he is unable to make the connection between his father’s difficulties in finding work and the unfair employment practices of the bosses and owners. The narrative compares him to those who subscribe to Malthus’s ideas yet donate money to famine relief funds. He is worried about Antanas, particularly when he is told that Antanas can only have a job in the pickle room (at Durham’s) if he pays a third of his wages to his boss. Jurgis is told by Tamoszius that this is common practice in Packingtown and is called ‘grafting’ (that is, corruption). The narrative expands on this point to explain that ‘the place was simply a seething caldron of jealousies and hatred’ where the dollar is always more important than a man. Jurgis does not want to believe this and prefers to think that one will be rewarded for hard work. However, he also does not want his father to take this job.
After two days, Antanas is complaining as bitterly as the other workers as he has to clean up disgusting slops that are recycled over and over again. Marija and Jonas also have terrible stories of work. They were only able to find employment because of the misfortune of their predecessors. The man who formerly had Jonas’s job was crushed to death and Marija’s position was held by a woman who became ill and was sacked after fifteen years of loyalty to the firm. Jurgis also becomes somewhat disillusioned when he has to help dispose of damaged and ill cattle when the government inspector has left. These dead animals still entered the food chain and were dispersed throughout the chill room to avoid detection.
Chapter Six explains how Ona and Jurgis are very much in love and would love to marry (as this is still the background story to events in Chapter One). They are simply unable to afford it in their first months in the United States. Ona decides to find work in order that they will be able to marry as soon as possible.
Further problems arise, however, when a neighbor informs them that their house is not new as they were led to believe, but is actually fifteen years old. It was built with the cheapest possible materials and many people lose their homes because they are evicted if they get behind on just a month’s repayments. Different waves of immigrants over the years have similarly been misinformed about their ‘new’ homes and have also had difficulties re-paying. In an aside to this point, it is believed that Durham’s desire for an ever cheaper workforce has meant they send out agents to Europe to entice them to the United States.
The neighbor also lets the family know that they have to pay more than they realize. They are also expected to pay interest. It is imperative that Ona and little Stanislovas (Elzbieta’s eldest child) find work now to help with these larger bills. Ona has to bribe her forelady to gain employment and Elzbieta has to obtain a certificate from a priest to say that Stanislovas is sixteen (two years older than his actual age). The laxity of the government inspectors with regard to child labor means this is only a formality. Stanislovas finds work putting empty cans to a machine that then fills them with lard. The chapter ends with the information that a million and three quarter children work in the United States.
These three chapters list the mounting obstacles that the central family has to face. The working conditions that they have to endure are heavily criticized as is the treatment that immigrant families face when attempting to buy a home. Their naivety and lack of knowledge is depicted as being exploited at every turn.
These chapters also introduce how corruption is rife and how it is necessary for Antanas, Ona and Stanislovas to join in with this system of ‘graft’ in order to survive. This is a strong indictment of employment practices as well as a questioning of the morality of those who perceive the dollar to be of greater value than human life.