The Jungle: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. In that country, rich or poor, a man was free, it was said; he did not have to go into the army, he did not have to pay out his money to rascally officials – he might do as he pleased, and count himself as good as any other man. So America was a place of which lovers and young people dreamed. If one could only manage to get the price of a passage, he could count his troubles at an end. p. 23 This references epitomizes the naivety of hopeful would-be immigrants, such as Jurgis, before coming to the United States. This is the new world and is considered the land of opportunity. The belief in fair treatment for the individual is poignant when one considers the devastating effects of capitalism on Jurgis and his family.
  2. But Jurgis had no sympathy with such ideas as this – he could do the work himself, and so could the rest of them, he declared, if they were good for anything. If they couldn’t do it, let them go somewhere else. Jurgis had not studied the books, and he would not have known how to pronounce ‘laissez faire’; but he had been round the world enough to know that a man has to shift for himself in it, and that if he gets the worst of it, there is nobody to listen to him holler.p. 58 Here, Jurgis is depicted as resistant to joining the union and is clearly individualist in his thinking. That is, he believes each person should fend for him or herself. This is in contrast to his later ‘conversion’ to socialism (in the final chapters) when he listens to the explanations of how collective action – rather than individual self-concern - will liberate the proletariat.
  3. When he came home that night he was in a very somber mood, having begun to see at last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America.p.62 At this point, Jurgis is becoming disillusioned with his work in the meat industry as he has had to help dispose of damaged and ill cows after the government inspector has left the plant. These cattle were placed in the chilling rooms and scattered about so they would not be identified.
  4. The officials who ruled it, and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes.p.92 The workings of United States democracy is explained to Jurgis in this reference, and it is clearly a strong indictment. Mainstream politicians and elections are portrayed as being entirely corrupt.
  5. They were tied to the great packing machine, and tied to it for life.p.102 This is a reference to how workers at Packingtown are only allowed Sundays off, and by then they are too tired to walk anywhere.
  6. They had got the best out of him – they had worn him out, with their speeding-up and their carelessness, and now they had thrown him away!p.124 Here, Jurgis discovers that because he has lost his strength and confidence from his ankle injury, he is no longer regarded as employable. It is also pointed out to the readers shortly after this quotation that this is the same for most of the unemployed that he meets. Their work has been so hard that they have become broken men. Once this occurs, the employers discard them with no thoughts of loyalty.
  7. They were swindlers and thieves of pennies and dimes, and they had been trapped and put out of the way by the swindlers and thieves of millions of dollars.p.162 This reference is made whilst Jurgis is imprisoned for beating Connor. The narrative argues here that the profiteers of capitalism are thieves on a much larger scale than men who are regarded as common criminals. This is, therefore, arguing that hypocrisy is central to the maintenance of the capitalist system.
  8. …there was universal exultation over this triumph of popular government, this crushing defeat of an arrogant plutocrat by the power of the common people.p. 261 This is a heavily ironic statement that is critical of the way democracy works in the United States. The readers have previously been exposed in this chapter to how extensively the elections have been rigged between the supposedly opposing parties.
  9. There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where the things are behind the bars, and the man is outside.p. 279 This reference explains the relativity of freedom and imprisonment. The novel argues here that one does not have to be physically incarcerated in order to feel enslaved.
  10. The finishing of pants did not take much skill, and anybody could learn it, and so the pay was forever getting less. That was the competitive wage system; and if Jurgis wanted to understand what Socialism was, it was there he had best begin. The workers were dependent upon a job to exist from day to day, and so they bid against each other, and no man could get more than the lowest man would consent to work for.p. 309 Ostrinski, a socialist ‘pants finisher’, explains to Jurgis that capitalism depends on the competition between individual workers. This is also the reason why, potentially, the collective actions of the workers (as with unions) are so threatening to those who hope to profit from such competitively low wages.

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