The Jungle - Study Guide Chapters 1-2 Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 44 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Jungle.
This section contains 793 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)

Summary

Jurgis and Ona have just gotten married. They are throwing a reception for their friends, family, and co-workers. All the people at the party are workers in the local packing houses, most of them immigrants from Lithuania. These people work from morning to night six days a week, rarely able to find time to relax and celebrate as they are doing on this night. The party lasts until the early hours of the morning, even though most of these people will have to report to work at seven that morning.

Jurgis grew up in the country in Lithuania. Jurgis lived alone with his father and worked hard on the farm. When Jurgis first saw Ona, he fell head over heels in love. However, Ona’s father was not interested in allowing his daughter to marry a poor farmer. When Ona’s father died, leaving his widow, seven children, and a cousin without the means to support themselves, the family decided to move to America where Ona’s brother Jonas has a friend who claims it is easy to make a future there. Jurgis and his father Antanas decide to go with them so that Jurgis and Ona might get married.

The trip to America is difficult as the family is naive and cannot speak English. They are taken advantage of several times, but they finally arrive in New York. The family then travels to Chicago and seek directions to the stockyards. When they arrive, the family seeks out Jonas’s friend and discover that he owns a small delicatessen. This man sends them to a boarding house owned by a fellow Lithuanian, Aniele Jukniene. When the family is settled, their friend takes them on a tour of the stockyards and packing houses.

Analysis

This first chapter introduces the main characters of the novel: Jurgis and Ona Rudkus, Ona’s stepmother, Elzbieta, her cousin Marija, her brother Jonas, Jurgis’s father Antanas, as well as Elzbieta’s five children. This family has come to America to make their fortune. They have only been in America for a short time, but they have made many friends, and they have started to make a life for themselves. At this point in their lives, they have found some happiness despite the fact that they are forced to work long hours for what little wages they are able to earn.

This chapter also introduces many of the Rudkus’s neighbors and friends. All the people at the wedding reception are working class people who work alongside Jurgis and Ona in the packing houses in the Chicago stockyards. These people work in difficult situations that are not always safe or sanitary. They work long, hard days in order to provide for their families in a world where the poor have no recourse other than hard work or begging on the street.

The narration moves back in time in this chapter, taking the reader back to the moment when Jurgis first saw Ona and decided he would make her his wife. Jurgis and Ona are very young and clearly very much in love. The decision to come to America is supposed to be a new start for this couple whose families are both struggling to survive under the oppressive government of their homeland. They have high hopes for the future. The reader can feel the optimism coming off the page, suggesting that this optimism might not be fully realized.

The reader gets the first indication of trouble when the family goes to explore their new hometown. The stockyards are a dirty, smelly place. There are several large packing houses close together that employ most of the local people. The roads are unpaved. The houses are mostly old and cheaply built, and the area is overcrowded. The family could not even find a decent place to live. Instead, they find themselves sharing the personal rooms of their landlady, thirteen people to one room. However, the family is so excited about the future that it has not occurred to them to think they might have made a mistake in coming to America.

Discussion Question 1

Who is Jurgis? Where is he from? What is his life like in America? What is he celebrating in this first chapter?

Discussion Question 2

What is a packing house? What do these people do in the packing houses? How difficult is this work?

Discussion Question 3

Why does the family decide to move to America? What do they believe they will find in America? How will America be different from Lithuania?

Vocabulary

Lamentation, disclosing, brawny, laboriously, lovesick, portion, vacant, youthful, aprons, delicatessen, battered, disappeared, happiness, particulars, furiously, describes, imagination, distance, chimneys, suggestions, stockyards, packinghouses, streaming, draining, festering, economical, arrangement, troublesome, characteristics, especially, annoying, unhealthful, commonly, topographical.

This section contains 793 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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