The Jungle

Describe Jurgis's time in jail and what happens after he appears in court

chapter 16-17

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Jurgis goes to prison. He is kicked by a policeman on his way to his cell but is not surprised at this. He knows that the police in Packingtown can be brutal. When he arrives in the holding cell, he sits down “like a wild beast that has glutted itself; he was in a dull stupor of satisfaction” because he had beaten Connor so well. That feeling of satisfaction soon leaves, however, and he is confronted with the reality of his situation. He remembers Ona and his family and now realizes their situation.

That night, Jurgis is overcome with the memories of his past. He stretches out his arms “to heaven, crying out for deliverance from it,” but deliverance does not come. He curses himself for letting Ona work in such a place, even though he had heard the stories and knew the realities of such places for women like her. He knows that even though she might forgive him, she “would never look him in the face again, she would never be his wife again” because of the shame she now feels over the incident. Jurgis toils in his mind over the poverty that his family now faces. He wonders if they will be evicted, thrown out in the streets to die. He thinks only of the worst possibilities.

Jurgis is picked up in the morning by a police wagon and driven to a makeshift courtroom. Jurgis goes before Justice Callahan, one of the bosses of Packingtown’s political machine. The Justice gives him a $300 bond, but since Jurgis has no way to pay it, he is led away by the police. He is made to take a bath and taken to a cell with two bunks, each one infested with fleas and rodents. At night, Jurgis paces up and down “like a wild beast that breaks its teeth upon the bars of its cage.” He sometimes flings himself against the walls and beats them with his fists.

At midnight, there is a loud outburst of bells from the town’s church steeples. Jurgis remembers that it is Christmas Eve. He flashes back in his mind to Lithuania and to times of celebration. Jurgis realizes that even in Packingtown they had not forgotten the vision of the Christ child and that “some gleam of it had never failed to break their darkness.” He remembers all of the shoddy, yet happy Christmases that the family had shared in Packingtown. However, Jurgis’s thoughts soon turn to despair once again. He realizes that the Christmas bells are not ringing for him. “He was of no consequence -- he was flung aside, like a bit of trash, the carcass of some animal.” A fury is awakened in Jurgis. He understands now that justice is a lie and that all of society was “tyranny, the will and the power, reckless and unrestrained!” They treat him and his family worse than they treat the animals at the packinghouses. In these midnight hours, Jurgis feels “the beginning of his rebellion, of his outlawry and his unbelief.” He declares all of society his enemy. The chapter ends with a poem: “The vilest deeds, like poison weeds, / Bloom well in prison air; / It is only what is good in Man / That wastes and withers there.”