The Jungle

The Jungle Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the symbolism of Tamoszius Kuszleika's violin playing in the first chapter?

    The symbolism of Tamoszius Kuszleika's violin playing in the first chapter works on two levels. In the first, Tamoszius's music symbolizes a bridge between the old world of Eastern Europe, which the immigrant community of Sinclair's novel had left behind, and the new world of America. The music literally brings their immigrant past into the present. On a second level, Sinclair is describing his own writing by comparing his descriptive ability to the music. By noting, "His notes are never true," Sinclair is telling the reader that his writing is only a partial illumination of the plight of this immigrant population. He is hinting that the truth of their poverty is not fully accessible through the novel.

  2. 2

    Why or why not is Packingtown a modern version of chattel slavery?

    Sinclair describes the immigrant's life as a modern form of slavery because of the economic situation that immigrant populations find themselves in upon moving to Packingtown. Although these immigrants have no physical chains, Sinclair notes repeatedly how they have no real freedom because the packing plants are the only means of survival for these families. Economic systems of control make it impossible for families to break cycles of poverty. As soon as a person makes money, powerful capitalist interest finds ways to take it away. In this way, it is impossible for people to lift themselves out of Packingtown, and thus, they are slaves to a system they cannot control.

  3. 3

    How would you describe Sinclair's vision of The American Dream?

    For Sinclair, the American Dream is not the ability of a person to make a life for themselves through hard work and sacrifice. This, he argues, is impossible. Poor immigrants become trapped in cycles of poverty that do not allow them to experience real freedom. The promise of America, he writes, is in the ability of working people to choose collective action against the manipulators of the capitalist economy. Through banding together, working people are able to improve their own lives by controlling the means of production and the flows of capital.

  4. 4

    Although The Jungle does not take place in an actual jungle, how does Sinclair create a jungle-like atmosphere in the novel?

    The chief way that Sinclair creates a wild, unordered setting in the novel, is by devolving his characters from human beings into representations of animals. As the novel progresses, Sinclair suggests that the tortuous conditions of Packingtown choke out the humanity in Jurgis and his family. One particular representative scene is when Jurgis attacks Ona's boss after he rapes her. Jurgis becomes an unthinking animal, roused to anger by an attack on his family. He responds with his own violence, eschewing the structures of justice and order. By becoming animals, Jurgis and his family fall victim to the horrors of Social Darwinism.

  5. 5

    How is the industrialization process responsible for the degradation of workers?

    According to Sinclair, the growing industrialization of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries degrades workers and their families through mechanisms of use and abuse. Growing industrial corporations, such as the meat packing plants, seek to use the resources of workers until those workers can no longer sustain their pace of work. In this way, industries see workers not as humans but as impersonal resources. This allows them to deny human civility. Sinclair argues that in a capitalist society, the result will always be that workers are degraded as humans in order to maximize profit and power for the elite few.

  6. 6

    Is The Jungle propaganda?

    The Jungle is an example of muckraking propaganda, a form of journalism that was especially prevalent in the early twentieth century. Sinclair purposefully sought to write a novel that would elicit strong emotional and moral responses from individuals. These individuals, Sinclair believed, would then feel compelled to act in certain moral ways, especially in advocating for the rights of workers. Sinclair's novel did not always produce the intended effect, however, since the reform of the food industry was the chief result of his efforts rather than the reform of working conditions.

  7. 7

    How is The Jungle an example of American Naturalist writing?

    Sinclair's novel falls into the American Naturalist tradition. This tradition created characters whose narratives are completely reliant on the natural world around them. In Sinclair's novel, Jurgis and his family are victims of the natural world they inhabit. Their lives are dependent upon the "horrible nature of nature," as Sinclair describes it. They have no internal mechanisms of thought or criticism to help them escape the horrors of the lives they lead. The novel has been criticized for relying too heavily upon Naturalism and not allowing the characters to develop any sense of internal agency.

  8. 8

    If Jurgis Rudkus is the novel's protagonist, who would you say is the novel's antagonist?

    Sinclair does not use a single character as an antagonist to Jurgis and his family. Instead, Sinclair's antagonist is the system of capitalism that oppresses its workers. While the packing plant owners are villains in the novel, Sinclair does not suggest that there is anything innately horrible within their selves. Instead, these men use a corrupt economic system to oppress others. This is a horrible action, certainly, but such actions would not take place without systems of economics and politics.

  9. 9

    Is Jurgis better off at the novel's end?

    Jurgis is not necessarily better off in a physical way at the novel's end. He is still in poverty, though he does hold a steady job as a hotel porter. Jurgis is better off, however, in that the ideas of socialism have intellectually and spiritually awakened him. These ideas have brought into his life hope, something that was lacking in Jurgis's life in America. In this way, Jurgis can return to a state of empowerment that he felt when first coming to America. Some critics panned the novel's ending, claiming that by not resolving Jurgis's struggle in any comprehensive way, the novel does not complete its artistic mission.

  10. 10

    Discuss the treatment of the body in The Jungle.

    Sinclair uses the body as the center of capitalism's torment on his characters. While many of the hardships that the family first endures begin as mental hardships, they quickly become physical hardships as well. Because Sinclair's characters have little inner mental and emotional development, the physical body becomes the symbol for how a person is enslaved and broken down by the systems of greed and corruption in Chicago's Packingtown. This is especially true for the female characters in the novel. Their bodies suffer the effects of nature during childbirth, a process that Sinclair sees as breaking and often killing the woman in some fundamental way, as in Ona’s case.