Chapter Seven returns us to the beginning of the novel and the marriage of Ona and Jurgis. The family worked all summer and saved enough for the wedding by the end of November. The celebrations, to which they invited all their new acquaintances, leave them in debt of over a hundred dollars. Furthermore, they all have to go to work the next day.
Jurgis becomes more embittered with his life and because he wants to protect Ona he feels he must ‘do battle against horror’. He sees hostility everywhere, including advertisements and the corporation that employs him: ‘from top to bottom it was nothing but one gigantic lie.’
The children become ill and the readers are informed that the family does not know that their home is not connected to a sewer; there is only a cesspool under the house. They also do not know that their food is doctored; for example, there is formaldehyde in the milk that is sold locally. Antanas, Jurgis’s father, becomes ill because of his job. He has an interminable cough and his feet are damaged from chemicals. When he dies from three haemorrhages, Jurgis understands his new life sufficiently that he takes witnesses with him when obtaining the full price for the funeral so that no extras can be added on.
This chapter ends with a description of Jurgis’s freezing working conditions. The drinking culture is also criticized as the readers are told that he has nowhere to eat except ‘amid the stench’ or in one of the hundred local saloons. The packers all pay by check and the saloons are the only places that cash them. Jurgis is saved from falling in to drinking too much because of Ona and his desire to reach home.
Chapter Eight begins with the good news that Marija is planning to marry Tamoszius, the violin player. However, the canning factory where she works closes down for a month without giving the employees any notice. There is also a slump in the cattle industry and Jurgis’s hours are cut. Prior to Marija’s news of impending unemployment, Jurgis had joined the union to protect his hours from being cut further. The union becomes a new religion for Jurgis and he has the urge to spread the word.
In Chapter Nine, it is explained that after joining the union Jurgis is inspired to take English lessons to participate in the meetings: ‘It was the beginning of democracy with him’.
The corruption of democracy is then exposed as Jurgis becomes an American citizen and is shown how to vote. He is given two dollars and Jones’s offer to vote three times for four dollars is accepted. Graft is described as rife in this democracy.
A detailed description of the machinations of a local corrupt politician then ensues. Mike Scully, who is described as the Democratic ‘boss’ in the local elections, owns the nearby dump and the brick factory. He pays his staff high wages and this gives him many friends. Many belong to the influential ‘War Whoop League’, which the district police are also members of. Three ‘henchmen of the local political machine’ do inspection of meat sold in the city and state and thousands of dollars are paid in hush money to allow the sale of tubercular steer and cholera infected hogs.
There are also many small industries in the area that are concerned with using up the by-products of the slaughtered animals. All of these jobs affect their workers in different ways; for example, sores are prevalent on the workers in the pickle room and partially chopped hands are a hazard for those working on the stamping machines.
The corruption in politics and the meat industry is the focus in these (and other) chapters. It is a central theme that is continuously referred to and it is evident in Chapter Eight that, at last, Jurgis recognizes that he and his family are vulnerable to the forces of capitalism. That is, Jurgis understands that his particular firm is attempting to cut his hours and he may be able to protect himself by joining the union. Jurgis has not yet looked beyond his own circumstances to understand how powerful capitalism is.
This is evident in the tale of how he embraces the idea of democracy and yet sells his vote. The narrative is quick to demonstrate that Jurgis acts out of necessity and lack of options. He is beginning to be driven by poverty at this point, which allows the text to demonstrate how capitalism crushes the individual and collective will.
The Jungle: Chapters 7-9