Monday, April 25, 2011

Farewell my dearest flower; Farewell my happiness

This is sort of a review of The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair during the Gilded Age in America. He was a socialist, he mocked the American Dream and he fought for the rights of the laboring class. Please do read this book someday...Maybe this essay will get you interested in it :]

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003. 

“Farewell my dearest flower; Farewell my happiness as well as for me, the unfortunate, I see I am destined by the Highest to live alone in the world in misery.” (p 9) This is the song that Marija sings at Ona and Jurgis’ wedding when the story begins. The lyrics foreshadow the growing hardships that await this working-class family from Lithuania. They had come to America, the land of the free, with high hopes of making money and gaining a high quality of living. Jurgis and Ona were in love and would soon be married. The family is closely knit, and they are happy together. In times of struggle, Jurgis always promises to work harder in order to make more money and provide for the family, but he soon learns that being a working man is a losing fight. (pg 248) Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle mocks the American Dream by showing how big businesses took advantage of immigrants by taking over their lives, dehumanizing them and enslaving them to the factories.

The factory quickly shows itself to be a place for only the strongest. Antanas, Jurgis’ father, cannot get work because he is old. Finally when he does get work, he is paid pitifully and his working condition is terrible. He gets sores on his feet and eventually, the factory takes his life. Jurgis starts out as an agile young man and is immediately given a job because he looks lively and ready to work. However, the factory soon causes him to disintegrate. First he breaks his leg, and loses work that way, and later on when he is working in mining  tunnels, he loses his job after breaking his arm. In the end, he can hardly keep a job because he is too weak and therefore not efficient for the factory. After Ona gives birth to Antanas Jr., she can only afford to miss a week of work for recovery because otherwise she will be replaced by someone stronger than she. However, because she did not rest enough, she never recovers fully from childbirth. The family is forced, like beasts of burden, to go to work in any and all conditions, because only the strongest survive in the factories.

The packers treat their laborers no better than they treat the pigs which march willingly, yet unknowingly, to their slaughter. The packers use “every part of the hog except the squeal.” (p 38) They use every part of the laborers until they are completely burnt out from working. Jurgis realizes this when he cannot find work after breaking his leg. “Now he [Jurgis] was second-hand, a damaged article. They [the packers] had got the best out of him- They had worn him out…and now they had thrown him away!” (p 42) Just like they use every part of the pig to gain as much of a profit from each one as possible, so they use the workers until they are no longer profitable.

The workers really are just parts of the machine. They work “day by day, hour by hour, week by week, year by year” doing the same task and standing in the same square spot to do the task. Their lives offer no place for an imagination or free-time. The narrator says that little Stanislovas could only think about setting lard cans all day. (p 82) For most of the year he would wake up for work when it was dark and he would not return home until it was dark outside again. (p 83) Teta Elizabeta gets a job in the sausage plant at the factory. Sinclair describes her task as years of monotony. The rich people who come to get a tour of the plant are fascinated by how fast she works, and they stare at her like she is a “wild beast in menagerie”. (p 152) Her face is blank and pallid, and she thoughtlessly links the sausages together steadily all day long because that’s the only way she can keep her family alive. Elizabeta is left with no time to think because of the concentration her job requires. The family would drag themselves home after working on the machines all day, and at home they ate in silence, “for they had nothing but their misery to speak of”. (p 155) They would then faint into their beds and wake in the morning for work, only to start the process over again. They live robotically and monotonously, “racing death”. (p 152)

Their family community that is essential to them as human beings is destroyed by the machine that they are chained to. Throughout the story the family devolves from a closely knit unit to broken scattered parts. Ona and Jurgis are a particularly good example of this. They work for the majority of the day so they have little time to spend with one another. Ona and Jurgis’ relationship problems begin when Jurgis breaks his leg and he becomes very hostile and stressed out. Ona is suffering much pain from working in the winter freeze, but she doesn’t want to bother him with her complaints, so she just doesn’t talk to him. “The woe of this would flame up in Ona sometimes- At night she would suddenly clasp her big husband in her arms and beak into passionate weeping, demanding to know if he really loved her.”  The narrator then explains that Jurgis’ passion for Ona had faded as the hardships in life grew. (p 140) Ona later has sex with her boss because he threatens to blacklist her family’s names if she doesn’t. This afflicts Ona’s conscious and nearly drives Jurgis mad. Eventually, Ona dies in childbirth because she doesn’t have enough money to call for a doctor. Even their first little son, Antanas drowns because of the flooded conditions of the street in their poverty stricken neighborhood. In the end, Jurgis has lost his wife and his only son to the inevitable poverty that the factory creates for laborers. 

Sinclair explains how these circumstances are unavoidable for an immigrant trying to survive in America because they are mostly uneducated and unskilled. "Here is 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 [the packers] every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers.” (p 122) They come to America quite naïve, without knowing the language and without an education. They are an easy target for conmen, like the man who sells them their house for much more money than it is worth. Because they are unskilled laborers, they are paid only about fifteen cents an hour, and the children and women are paid even less. However, even if they wanted to get an education, it would be very unlikely that they would. Stanislovas drops out of school when he is 13 to work at the factory. Kotrina drops out of school to care for the younger children when she is around the same age and later on she works in the streets selling newspapers. Elizabeta’s other sons also have to drop out of school to sell newspapers. As for the adults, they are too worn out to come home and study after a hard day’s work. He knew of a man who had eight kids and would go to night school in the evenings. Jurgis hoped that someday he would have the chance to become educated too. “With hope like that, there was some use in living; to find a place where you were treated like a human being- by God!” (p 229) However, until he was educated, he was stuck in the culture of poverty, unable to move up in the factory. 

The socialist political speaker who changes Jurgis’ life describes the slavery of Jurgis and his family explicitly when he says, “There are a million people, men and women and children, who share the curse of the wage slave, who toil every hour they can stand and see, for just enough to keep them alive; who are condemned to the end of their days to monotony and weariness, to hunger and misery, to heat and cold, to dirt and disease, to ignorance and drunkenness and vice!” Factories like Packingtown oppressed workingmen as a form of slavery during the gilded age. Sinclair depicts this through his raw story about the immigrant family from Lithuania. “They had dreamed of freedom; of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent and clean, to see their child grow up to be strong. And now it was all gone-it would never be!" (p 156) The American dream turned out to be a giant hoax that they were dragged and chained into.

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