The Jungle

The Jungle Summary and Analysis of Chapters 28-31


Chapter 28

Jurgis narrowly escapes recognition by the judge when he appears in court the next morning. Marija and the other whores are fined five dollars, which is paid by their madam. They leave the court and return to the brothel where business resumes as usual. Marija and Jurgis talk for a while. She tells him of the whore trade, how girls are brought over from foreign countries and forced into prostitution. Their madam gives him morphine so that they become addicted and reliant on staying in the brothel to afford more of the drug. She tells him of how women, contrary to opinion, do not like such work, and how they are forced into such labor by starvation and poverty.

Jurgis tells Marija of his own travels. She assures him that if he returns to Elzbieta’s house, he will not be judged for leaving. She gives him only a quarter and tells him to go there. He leaves the brothel and gets a meal with the quarter. He tries to find work so that he will not have to face Elzbieta, but he cannot find a job. As he walks past the meeting hall, he sees there is another political rally forming. He enters the hall and finds that it is almost full. He takes one of the last seats in the back of the room.

Jurgis is lost in his thoughts and before he realizes it, he falls asleep and is awakened by another man. Suddenly, a young woman whispers in his ear, “‘If you would try to listen, comrade, perhaps you would be interested.” Jurgis is startled and sees that the young woman that whispered to him is finely dressed and intently listening to the man giving the political speech. He is shocked that a woman of such standing would call him “comrade.”

Jurgis focuses his attention on the speaker and is transfixed. He is surprised by how emotional he becomes at seeing the man’s eyes. “It was like coming suddenly upon some wild sight of nature, -- a mountain forest lashed by a tempest, a ship tossed about upon a stormy sea.” Jurgis is confused and disoriented, but cannot help but pay attention to the man.

The man begins to give a long speech that captures the attention of the audience. He uses wild gestures and a powerful voice. He tells of how the workingmen of the Chicago are oppressed and believe that there is nothing they can do to escape the harsh conditions they face. He tells of how women must prostitute themselves to survive and how the institutions of the city, such as government, industry, and churches, do nothing to help. He tells of how children face desperation and starvation.

Jurgis is “trembling [and] smitten with wonder” by this speaker, and everyone in the hall cheers and then is silent as the man continues his speech. The man tells the crowd that a person can be “delivered from his self-created slavery” and that the systems of degradation will never again ensnare him. He goads the crowd into taking action here in Chicago. He tells them that they must rise up against the thousands of people that “do nothing to earn what they receive,” those masters of industry who live in palaces and luxury while their workers starve. The speaker tells the crowd that they must speak with the “voice of Labor, despised and outraged; a mighty giant, lying prostrate.”

Jurgis stands and cheers with the crowd, overwhelmed by his emotion. He hears a voice within him, “a voice with strange intonations that rang through the chambers of the soul like the clanging of a bell.” All of his old emotions come flooding back to him, and he comes to a realization about his state and what has put him there.

Chapter 29

Jurgis is overcome with emotion from the man’s speech. The crowd begins to sing the Marseillaise, but when the rally turns to a question and answer period and a debate on Tolstoy breaks out, Jurgis comes back into the real world and realizes that he is a bum. In desperation, Jurgis fights his way to the platform when the meeting is over and tells the speaker how much he was affected by the speech. The speaker asks him if he wants to know more about socialism and he introduces him to a Polish man named Ostrinski.

Ostrinski takes Jurgis back to his own home, a two-room tenement house in the Ghetto district. Ostrinski and his wife repair pants for a living, but they can barely make a living wage. Ostrinski begins to explain the tenets of Socialism. He tells Jurgis about how wage earners, the proletariat, are kept in slavery by those that exploit their work. These workers cannot change their circumstances until they became “class-conscious.”

Ostrinski tells Jurgis that the Socialist Party is the largest political organization in the world and that they are organizing to return the workingman to world power. They are a true democratic organization, meaning that they have no bosses or leaders. Chicago, he tells him, is at the mercy of the Beef Trust, and the Socialist Party wishes to help the workingman to rise up, take control, and reform the corrupt systems that the Trust controls. He tells Jurgis that this will be difficult work, but Jurgis is excited by the possibilities and has trouble falling asleep on Ostrinski’s kitchen floor that night.

Chapter 30

Jurgis, now awakened by Socialism, returns to Elzbieta’s house where he attempts to convince her of the system’s merits. She is skeptical, but decides that anything that keeps Jurgis away from drink and makes him industrious is worth it. Jurgis begins looking for a job and fortunately comes to find one in a hotel as a porter. When Ostrinski learns of Jurgis’s job, he tells him that the hotel owner is one of the most passionate Socialist Party members in the city.

The hotel, owned by a man name Hinds, is a hotbed of Socialist activity. Hinds tells Jurgis of his own life and struggles and anytime he is faced with adversity he mutters: “‘Capitalism, my boy, Capitalism! Ecrasez l’Infame!” The hotel employs a number of Socialist Party members and every night the employees get into intense arguments and debates with guests who defend systems of capitalism and individualism. Hinds explains how the Oil Trust, the Beef Trust, and the Railroad Trust actually own the country and the politicians. Some guests change their minds and attitudes towards socialism, and some do not.

Jurgis begins to spend all his time and much of his money on spreading the Socialist cause, though he does occasionally fall into old habits of drink. At those times, he remembers, however, that it is a “wicked thing to spend one’s pennies for a drink, when the working-class was wandering in darkness, and waiting to be delivered.” Jurgis attempts to convert his neighbors to socialism, though he makes many enemies and almost gets into a few fights during the process. The people tell Jurgis that socialism is “paternalism,” but Jurgis argues that by letting the capitalists rule the country and build the libraries and social structures, they are not allowing the workers to build their own country. Capitalism is true paternalism.

Jurgis meets and hears a number of famous socialist speakers and writers. He meets the “Little Giant,” a little person who “had written a veritable encyclopedia” of Socialism. He hears a young author from California that had made a fortune selling books but that had never ceased to fight for the poor. He begins to read the “Appeal to Reason,” a tabloid newspaper that spreads the word of socialism through fantastical stories. Jurgis and the Socialist Party members distribute flyers and pamphlets telling the people of Packingtown what they can do to fight the Beef Trust when their strike fails. Feeling pressure, Mike Scully brings in the South Carolina “pitchfork Senator” to speak to the workers and to fight for the Republican Party. Jurgis stands up, however, and gives his own speech in the meeting, telling the crowd how he himself had been a part of the political machine that had bought votes and oppressed the voice of the people.

Chapter 31

After getting his job, Jurgis goes once again to see Marija. He tells her that since he has work, she can leave the brothel. She tells him, however, that she will never leave. She is addicted to morphine and cannot find another job in the city because she will be found out to be a whore. Jurgis sees that she wants him to leave, so he does.

Jurgis immerses himself in “the world of ideas.” Though he is only a hotel porter, he spends his interests and energy on learning about the socialist cause. One night, he is specifically invited to attend a dinner at the home of a man named Fisher, a man who had become a millionaire but gave it up to live in the heart of the city’s slums. Fisher is “one of the minds of the movement.” Jurgis feels out of place at the dinner since he is just a common worker, and everyone else is a gentleman or lady. He takes a seat in the corner and listens to the conversations.

The first debate of the evening begins between two of the Socialist Party members, a former professor named Nicholas Schliemann and a former itinerant preacher named Lucas. Schliemann comments that the final great battle of the socialist movement will be between the Socialist Party and the Catholic Church. Religion, he says, is an opiate of the masses and has no place in the future socialist world. He tells the group that religion is a fraud that perpetrates the imbalance of power. Lucas, a former evangelical preacher, attempts to defend the word of God, “which is one long cry of the human spirit for deliverance from the sway of oppression.” Lucas goes down a list of passages from the Bible and stories of Biblical figures that represent the tenets of socialism. His most ardent argument is for Jesus Christ whom he says “denounced in unmeasured terms the exploiters of his own time” and was crucified for upsetting the social order. He gives a long speech on the merits of Christianity as being harmonious with Socialism, and in the end, Schliemann accepts his proposal.

A man named Maynard, an editor of an East Coast newspaper that denounced socialism, takes the chance to note how the two socialists cannot even agree on the meaning of the movement. The men then agree on a definition of the basics: “that a socialist believes in the common ownership and democratic management of the means of producing the necessities of life; and, second, that a socialist believes that the means by which this is to be brought about is the class-conscious political organization of the wage-earners.”

This definition gives Schliemann the opportunity to begin a long speech in defense of socialism. He tells Maynard of how the socialist society would organize labor; a job for everyone with no desire for profit so that each man earned a wage commensurate with his work. He details how competition in society is a wasteful process that creates innumerable jobs and positions that do nothing but waste money and labor. Advertising is simply a “science of persuading people to buy what they do not want.” However, by those with the means of production take advantage of those that actually produce useful things. Schliemann details the advances of science, such as farming machines and dishwashing machines that make some menial labor unnecessary. This will free up labor to produce more meaningful products for society.

In terms of creative capital, Schliemann details how each person with a creative impulse will be able to support himself through wages given by those that sought to reward his work. Socialism will rid the world of the negative waste of competition and give the world a positive moral stance on which to produce meaningful goods and services, he argues.

Election Day comes a few hours after the dinner. Jurgis goes to the meeting hall with other Socialist Party members to hear the election results. The Socialist Party makes great gains all over the Midwest. In Chicago, the Socialist vote increases from 6700 to 47,000. All across the Midwest in towns large and small, there is a great numerical increase in the number of Socialist votes counted. In the end, the Socialist vote ends up as over four hundred thousand, “an increase of something like three hundred and fifty per cent in four years.” The Socialists rejoice at these numbers, but a speaker comes before the hall and warns the crowd against losing the momentum. He tells them that future elections will be difficult but that with perseverance they will overcome the Beef Trust and “Chicago will be ours!”


As Jurgis leaves Marija’s brothel, he is in danger of falling back into the same cycle of poverty and unemployment as before. By chance, he enters the Socialist Party rally and undergoes his most significant awakening. Some scholars have likened this awakening to a conversion experience for Jurgis. The conversion narrative is a fixture of much of modern Western literature. Based upon narratives that began appearing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and which found their greatest popularity in Puritan and Evangelical literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these narratives generally focus around a specific time in which a character undergoes some kind of intense personal or intellectual change. Jurgis’s conversion fits this pattern. Through no effort of his own, Jurgis transforms from a character that is at the whim of the horrors of the natural world around him to a person with agency and the ability to influence his life and the lives of others.

This conversion is seen in the reappearance of the voices and noises inside of Jurgis’s head. In the novel’s previous chapter, these voices and noises, symbolic of the spark of life, were extinguished. This represented the mental and interior death of Jurgis, even if his physical self still exists. The return of these voices represents a resurrection. This shows how Jurgis can be considered a Christ-figure in the novel’s narrative.

The Socialist Party movement is a typical description of revolutionary movements in America during this time. As shown by the singing of the Marseillaise, the French national anthem written during the Revolution of 1789. Sinclair had used the scene of Jurgis at the meat packing plant owner’s house to propose that the reader understand the developing class conflict in Chicago in terms of previous revolutionary activity. By singing this anthem, Sinclair firmly establishes the Socialist Party in America as in the lineage of the French Revolution.

These final chapters of The Jungle shows a shift in Sinclair’s narrative technique. From Chapter Two until Chapter Twenty-Eight, Sinclair uses a narrative arc, mostly of the demise of Jurgis and his family. This arc ends in Chapter Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Nine with Jurgis’s conversion to Socialism. The remaining chapters of the novel move from a narrative to an explanatory style of writing. Sinclair uses the final chapters to explain the tenets and the merits of socialism to his reading audience. Scholars and critics have not always approved of this technique since it abandons the Naturalist mode of writing Sinclair established in the rest of the novel.

The discussion between Lucas and Schliemann allows Sinclair to elaborate on the breadth of the socialist movement. Lucas’s argument that Christianity can be fully reconciled with the political aspirations of socialism demonstrates the thinking of the Social Gospel movement. This movement, unofficially led by pastors and writers who often ministered in the country’s working class slums, seeks to portray the Christian church as originally a socialist movement. Their goal is to reclaim the social message of the gospel and to support socialist political goals. Schliemann’s arguments for socialism follow the more traditional intellectual explanation of the movement. Schliemann relies heavily on the arguments framed by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto and Capital.

The novel’s ending has been another point of criticism from scholars and critics. The novel resolves with a victory, if not in actual votes than in momentum, for the Socialist Party. Jurgis’s narrative is never resolved beyond experiencing his spiritual and intellectual awakening, and the reader is unsure as to whether his life truly improved or if he remained subject to the forces of the natural world that caused his previous demise. The novel’s closing chapters, critics have charged, resemble propagandist material more than literary achievement, a fault that some feel keeps The Jungle from achieving the literary ambitions that Sinclair proposed for the novel.