Marija’s canning factory shuts down and she loses her job. During the winter, after the rush season, many factories close down and many workers lose their jobs. Even Jurgis suffers from a cut-back on the hours at his job. Workers receive no pay for partial hours. The wage earners in the family all join unions. Jurgis begins to recruit other Lithuanians for the union with a zealous fervor, often frustrated by their ignorance and indifference. Their optimism and naïve commitment to the American Dream remind him of the misguided views he held when he first arrived in America.

Summary: Chapter 9

Jurgis attends union meetings religiously and resolves to learn English by attending night school and having the children help him. Jurgis becomes a U.S. citizen at the urging of a man at his plant. He does everything that the man says and follows him to the voting booths and marks the ballot how the man tells him to. For his trouble, Jurgis receives two dollars. Only later does he learn what the entire process means when his fellow union members explain to him that he has been exploited in one of the many vote-buying schemes in the country.

Jurgis learns the folklore of Packingtown. He learns of the graft, corruption, and greed spread by the likes of Mike Scully, a local Irish politician. He hears of the physical injuries and disease that ravage the labor force. He comes to realize that the dishonest meat companies sell diseased meat and label cans as “deviled ham” or “potted ham” although the contents are a mixture of leftover bits and entrails from any number of slaughtered animals.

Analysis: Chapters 6–9

The family’s encounter with Grandmother Majauszkiene foreshadows these immigrants’ eventual fate. The real-estate companies have trapped them in a scheme by selling them a house that is shiny and pretty on the outside but rotten on the inside. In this way, the house is similar to the tins containing rotten and diseased meats—like these meat products, the house is sold on its appearance. This ruse also exemplifies the betrayal of the American Dream by capitalism. The home is the symbolic center of the family, and owning one’s own home is a central tenet of the American Dream. The real-estate company’s swindling of Jurgis and his family suggests that the capitalism that makes the American Dream possible also, paradoxically, destroys it.

Grandmother Majauszkiene has seen successive generations of immigrant laborers crowd into Packingtown where they are ground down and worn out. Those who survive enter the web of graft and corruption and, by doing so, advance in power and status, mostly by abusing the next generation of immigrants. The successive waves of wage laborers who come to Packingtown to face abuse and degradation recall the image of the animals being herded to slaughter in the stockyards. These immigrants either fail to succeed or they compromise their moral principles. Either way, as with the ill-fated animals, forces beyond their control determine their respective fates.

An important premise of the novel is that the political and governmental systems that support American capitalism are as rotten and corrupt as the business world itself. Sinclair makes clear that the few labor reform laws aimed at preventing abusive labor practices are largely ineffective. The child labor laws forbidding children under the age of sixteen to work do nothing to keep children from being forced to labor at grueling jobs, since the desperate need for money necessitates that these youths work any job that they can. The very structure of capitalist economics, in Sinclair’s portrayal, demands such a sacrifice in order for one to survive. Throughout The Jungle, Sinclair uses narrative incidents such as Stanislovas’s exploitation as evidence to support the argument that working from within capitalism is not effective. Socialism, he argues, is the only viable political and economic system.