The Jungle

The Jungle Quotes and Analysis

So America was a place of which lovers and young people dreamed. If one could only manage to get the price of passage, he could count his troubles at an end.

The Jungle, 27.

This quote is Sinclair's depiction of the naïve belief by poor European immigrants who come to America. These immigrants, according to Sinclair, are tricked into the beliefs that they can find steady work, high wages, and a comfortable life in America. Sinclair is careful not to portray his characters as greedy, but only as average people looking for decency in their life.

The capitalist forces of America, however, work against this immigrant belief. It is a lie that brings in cheap labor. Immigrants, instead of obtaining a decent life, enter a life of cruelty in which they become a means of production in order to grow the wealth of an elite class. The use of language such as "lovers and young people" exemplifies Sinclair's belief that this lie of the American dream persuades the naïve into a life of wage slavery.

His notes are never true, and his fiddle buzzes on the low ones and squeaks and scratches on the high; but these things they heed no more than they heed the dirt and noise and squalor about them-it is out of this material that they have to build their lives, with it that they have to utter their souls.

The Jungle, 10.

This quote describes the music of Tamoszius Kuszleika, the violinist at Jurgis and Ona's wedding feast. Kuszleika is a passionate violinist, and his music represents the borders between the past and present. It is music from the immigrant homeland, yet in its imperfection, it represents the material from which they have to build their new American lives.

The quote also works on a literary level. Sinclair uses the violinist's music as a metaphor for his own writing. Just as the immigrants use the music to build a bridge between their past lives and their present lives, Sinclair uses his words to bridge the harsh realities of their lives to the middle and upper class literary society who are unaware of their harsh existence. He admits that, like the music, his depictions are not perfect, but his ambition for his project is clear: he hopes that his words will be the medium from which these immigrants might "utter their souls."

I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach.

Radical Innocent, 83.

This quote, spoken by Upton Sinclair, demonstrates the author's disappointment that the political point of his novel was overshadowed by the public's outcry over food production. Sinclair had meant for The Jungle critique capitalist economies. His goal had been to move the public to identify with the harsh realities of the working class and to garner sympathy for socialist viewpoints.

Instead, the country became outraged over the methods of food production. Sinclair's novel graphically illustrates the unsanitary and unethical standards by which meat was produced in the United States. The public was outraged that the government did not do more to protect the public and to maintain sanitation standards. This outcry eventually led to the Pure Food and Drug Act. The public was less concerned, however, with the treatment of meatpacking workers in the novel.

I've come here to write the Uncle Tom's Cabin of the Labor Movement!

Radical Innocent, 43.

This quote, spoken by Upton Sinclair to a group of reporters as he arrived in Chicago to start research on The Jungle, shows the underlying political and social meanings of the novel. Sinclair, who had become aware of socialist politics early in his career, intended for his novel to be a political novel in the same way that Uncle Tom's Cabin had sparked the abolitionist movement in the nineteenth century. Uncle Tom's Cabin had depicted the cruelties of slavery and caused an outcry in the Northern states against the Southern institution of slavery. Likewise, Sinclair meant for The Jungle to cause an outcry in the middle and upper class over the treatment of poorer and working classes in industrial America. In this way, Sinclair hoped to raise awareness of the socialist movement in America, although his attempt was ultimately not as successful as he would have liked.

Here was a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation, and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave-drivers; under such circumstances immorality was exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it was under the system of chattel slavery.

The Jungle, 113.

Sinclair here compares the example of Southern chattel slavery to the plight of immigrant workers in the Chicago slums of Packingtown. These immigrants, according to Sinclair, lose their power of agency and self-sufficiency because of economic powers beyond their control. Corrupt and indecent capitalists and politicians control the mechanisms of economy that pay low wages and then swindle immigrants out of these wages with poor quality goods and over priced services. Because immigrants often do not understand the culture or language, they have no way to guard themselves against such abuse. Immigrants are thus "chained" to jobs that pay them very low wages. All of their money must go towards low quality goods and services that keep them in poverty, meaning that they then cannot advance themselves in society. As with slavery, only those that control these men and women make money from their labor.

These midnight hours were fateful ones to Jurgis; in them was the beginning of his rebellion, of his outlawry and his unbelief.

The Jungle, 167.

This quote is about Jurgis and his time spent in prison after mercilessly beating Connor, Ona's factory boss, who rapes her. In prison, Jurgis hits bottom. Sinclair describes Jurgis's situation as a man who has been beaten and ground down until he is of less worth than the animals that he slaughters for a living. Jurgis begins to have a dim understanding that it is through no fault of his own that he has come to this. It is the fault of society. The laws and structure of society have put him and his fellow prisoners in jail because society did not give them a chance to succeed.

This quote also represents Jurgis's awakening. Unlike a religious awakening, however, Jurgis is born into a new life of rebellion and hatred towards the forces that conspire to beat down him and his family. The arc of the novel turns here. From this point on, Jurgis gains a sense of agency in the events of his life. This quote is thus also a turning point in Jurgis's life.

Jurgis could see all the truth now -- could see himself, through the whole long course of events, the victim of ravenous vultures that had torn into his vitals and devoured him; of fiends that had racked and tortured him, mocking him, meantime, jeering in his face. ...And they could do nothing, they were tied hand and foot -- the law was against them, the whole machinery of society was at their oppressors' command!

The Jungle, 184-185.

This quote describes the way in which Jurgis begins to understand the machinery of forces that keep him and his family in a state of submission and slavery. In this way, the reader can understand Sinclair's use of the title "Jungle." This is a figurative jungle, identified as machinery and systems of people that are each attempting to survive at the expense of the other, much as in natural selection and Social Darwinism.

These thoughts make Jurgis a different man from the rest of the common workers in Packingtown. While these other workers can comprehend the simple realities of everyday life that suppress their freedom such as the harsh work of the factories or the scams of real estate agents for instance, Jurgis connects all of these realities into a coherent system of thought. The greed of the factories is connected to the greed of the real estate agents. They are then connected to the corruption of the politicians who make the laws that allow such injustice. Jurgis realizes that, like a machine, all of these parts work together. This realization allows him to accept the idea of systemic change later in the novel.

All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.

"Art and Propaganda," The Jungle (Norton Critical Edition), 355.

This quote represents Sinclair's view of his artistic endeavors. Sinclair argued against an artistic viewpoint in which art is only created for art's sake, which is a view of art as a manifestation of upper class tastes and the traditions of previous artistic ages. Instead, Sinclair believed that art should reach the broadest audience possible and that it should influence people to make specific moral choices. For example, in The Jungle, Sinclair uses emotional, violent, and upsetting language to goad people into acting on behalf of workers.

There should be no more tears and no more tenderness; he had had enough of them - they had sold him into slavery! Now he was going to be free, to tear off his shackles, to rise up and fight.

The Jungle, 220

This quote exemplifies the American Naturalist tradition of literature within which Sinclair writes. The Naturalist tradition depicts characters as being only the result of the natural conditions that surround them. In The Jungle, Jurgis is a victim of the economic and social conditions of Chicago's Packingtown. He has little other interior motivation for working or living. His life is determined by the conditions of nature around him.

In this quote, Jurgis attempts to remove himself from these conditions by going out into the countryside. He believes himself to be a freer man, able to control his own life. Jurgis, however, remains a character that cannot separate his motivations from the conditions around him and he is soon swallowed up again in a political community that once again determines the trajectory of his life and work.

Socialists were the enemies of American institutions -- could not be bought, and would not combine or make any sort of a "dicker."

The Jungle, 268

This quote comes from the perspective of Jurgis before his conversion to socialism in the novel's concluding chapters. Here, Jurgis has just become a part of the Democratic machine of Chicago politics. His job is to manipulate the political system in order to assure power for Mike Scully and the other politicians and capitalists that run the city. To them, the Socialist party represents a political threat that must be extinguished through buying votes and rigging the system.

However, the politicos of Chicago also understand the Socialist movement in another way. In the lines before this quote, Jurgis remembers that Tamoszius Kuszleika, perhaps the novel's most incorruptible character, is a socialist. This flashback portrays socialism as a movement that is pure from political manipulation and corruption and that only seeks its own pure objectives. In this way, the corrupt politician's view of the Socialist party is constructed not only because it is a political threat, but because it offers a moral threat to their unjust use of corruption and control.