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The Jungle Summary
Upton Sinclair

Everything you need to understand or teach The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

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The Jungle Summary

Plot Summary

The Jungle is a novel by writer Upton Sinclair. In this novel, Jurgis Rudkus is an immigrant to America from Lithuania. Jurgis came to America with his fiancée, her stepmother and five children as well as his future brother-in-law, cousin, and Jurgis’s father. This family of eleven thought they could make a fortune working in Chicago’s stockyards based on things told to them from friends who had also immigrated. However, when they arrive in Chicago, they discover that working in the stockyards is much more difficult than any of them could ever imagine. The Jungle was a groundbreaking novel in its day that exposed some of the atrocities of the stockyards, the meat industry, and the difficulties of the poor working class.

Jurgis Rudkus has brought his fiancée, her stepmother, brother, five step-siblings, a cousin, and Jurgis’s father to America from their homeland of Lithuania in the hopes of making their fortunes in the Chicago stockyards. Jurgis finds a job almost immediately, and this gives the family hope that they will soon be able to make a good living. They decide to buy a house to avoid the cost of renting when the money dwindles to nothing. However, they are worried about being cheated, so they have not one, but two lawyers check over the deed.

Jurgis and his family move into their new home and buy furniture on credit. The home is crowded, but they feel satisfied with their purchase until they learn of the hidden costs associated with home ownership. Jurgis and his family did not know that they would have to pay interest each month, nor that they would have to pay annual taxes, an annual water fee, and for the cost of putting in a sidewalk and sewer system. However, with the women deciding to go to work as well as the men, they manage to scrap by each month.

Jurgis works on the killing beds of one of the packing houses. The job is hard and the pay is not very good, especially when the rules prevent the men from getting paid for all the time they put in, but it pays better than what the rest of the family is making. Therefore, when Jurgis hurts his ankle and is forced to stop working for several months, the family suffers. Jurgis loses his job, but he's able to find another even though it is less favorable than the killing beds.

As Jurgis struggles, other members of the family also struggle. Marija, the cousin of Jurgis’s wife, works painting cans. However, when she has a dispute with her supervisors over the number of cans she is being paid for, she loses this job. For weeks Marija is out of work. When Marija finally finds another job, it is as a meat trimmer. On several occasions, she cuts her hand bad enough to have to stop work for months at a time.

Jurgis’s wife Ona works sewing hams into their bags. Ona comes into contact with a boss at the packing house who finds her attractive. The boss tells Ona if she does not have intimate relations with him, he will make sure her entire family is blacklisted at the packing houses. Ona submits to this man. When Jurgis finds out, he beats up the boss. This causes Jurgis to be arrested. While Jurgis is in jail, his family is unable to pay the payments on their house. They become homeless. On the day Jurgis is released from jail, Ona goes into premature labor with their second child and dies.

Jurgis has been blacklisted at the packing houses and must go into Chicago to find work. Jurgis finds a job at a farm equipment manufacturer, but loses his job when the plant shuts down. Jurgis then finds work at a steel mill, but when his toddler son drowns in the muddy street outside their boarding house, Jurgis leaves the city. For several months Jurgis hoboes through the country side, finally returning to the city just as winter begins to set in.

Jurgis struggles to find work, eventually finding a job stringing phone lines in tunnels under the city. However, Jurgis is injured by a speeding train that breaks his arm. The accident leaves him unable to work for months. He has no choice but to beg on the streets. One night, Jurgis is befriended by a drunk, wealthy man in a bar. The man gives Jurgis a hundred dollar bill. When he tries to change it, the bartender steals it. Jurgis gets into a fight with the bartender, only to find himself arrested and jailed for ten days.

When Jurgis is released from jail, he teams up with a former cellmate and begins robbing people for money. Then Jurgis becomes involved in an election scam that takes him back to the packing houses. When the packing house workers strike, Jurgis crosses the picket lines and becomes a scab. Unfortunately, one night Jurgis sees the man who slept with his wife and attacks him again, causing him to be arrested again. Jurgis makes bail and runs away to the city.

One night, while living on the streets, Jurgis hears a speech by a Socialist. Jurgis adopts the Socialist Party immediately, gets a new job, and finds his scattered family. Jurgis discovers that Marija has become a prostitute to provide for Ona’s stepmother and three children. Jurgis begins providing for the stepmother, but Marija makes the decision to remain a prostitute, convinced she has no opportunities outside of her chosen lifestyle.

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The Jungle Lesson Plans contain 107 pages of teaching material, including:

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