The Jungle Summary

Jurgis Rudkus and Ona Lukoszaite, both from Lithuania, begin the setting of the story ‘The Jungle’ with their wedding held in a small town called Packingtown in Chicago. The newly-wed couple along with their relatives have become immigrants from Lithuania and have settled in Packingtown which is known as the place for the Lithuanian migrants. This place is portrayed to be difficult to survive in as jobs are not readily available for the people. Hence, people in this town suffer a lot financially. The story also hints to the readers that the state of the new couple is not exactly the best and that Ona has to work so that the bread keeps coming to them, while Jurgis promises Ona that he can become more responsible and take care of her.

The story takes a jump back a year in the timeline when Jurgis and Ona fall in love and he wishes to settle down with her. A friend of Ona is a Lithuanian immigrant American resident who has become rich very fast. This had propelled the people around Ona to try and break away from their country where hierarchy and social norms have caged people into less than what they can be.

Jurgis is marrying into a big family. There is his then-fiancée Ona, Ona’s stepmother Teta Elzbieta, Teta’s brother Jonas, Ona’s cousin Marija, and Ona’s six other siblings and stepsiblings. From oldest to youngest, they are Stanislovas, Kotrina, Vilimas, Nikolajus, Juozapas, and Kristoforas. In order to live a happier life, Jurgis, his father Antanas, and Ona’s family left Lithuania and settled in Chicago’s meatpacking town.

The moment they get to the United States, their blind hopes of a better life are shattered as they see nothing is as beautiful or perfect as they had imagined. This was an industrialized world where Chicago had made a name in the industrial stock market as the main canned meat producers in the States. Thousands of cows and other livestock are killed and meat is taken out to can and sell them to the market. Jurgis who is young and able to do hard labor is able to get a job. His father, however, who is not fit to commit to the work here has to succumb to a life indoors which was also another problem.

The family’s living conditions were way beyond horrendous so they had to start to look for a place to live. They eventually find a house but it comes with hidden expenses that they find very challenging because of their financial situation. With increasing expenses, Ona and Stanislovas started to work to meet the family’s needs. The working conditions in the town are hellish and the immigrant community is filled with crooks and double-crossers.  Jurgis's father eventually dies from the pressure of work.

In the colder months, times are even tougher. Because the factories do not think of the worker’s wellbeing, there are no installed heaters to make the working conditions favorable. Jurgis, just by going to work every day risks his life by working in conditions which are undoubtedly life-threatening. Marija is unable to get married to a violinist because there was no money for them to have a wedding ceremony.

Marija also used to work in a factory but sadly it closed down and she lost her job. The family conditions have definitely gotten worse which propels Jurgis towards a union that deals with internal problems of the immigrants’ community. This teaches Jurgis about the underlying corruption and bribery which takes place without their knowledge and has made the job sector go down the drain. In order to become worthy and teach his people, Jurgis decides to learn English. Marija gets her job back with the factory reopening, however, that is short-lived since she soon gets fired after she demanded she was getting less paid than she rightfully should. This showed the corruption that existed in this society as well. In the meantime, Ona gets pregnant and has a baby boy but the pressures of her work and her supervisor were so inhumane that she had to go back to work after just seven days of maternity leave.

It is very evident that anything happening to the breadwinners of the family would mean a lot of trouble for them all. Later in the story, Jurgis becomes severely injured due to the poor working conditions of the factory for which he worked. The factory themselves never took the blame. Instead, the factory has actually cut his wages because he had to stay on bed rest for his feet to recover. This mishap causes the entire family to suffer.

Unable to take the stress, Jonas abandons the family and goes off somewhere without telling anyone. Kristoforas, the youngest son of Teta Elzbieta suffers food poisoning and does not survive to live another day. This catastrophe occurring to the family emotionally paralysed Jurgis as well. When he recovered after 3 months to go back to work, the horrendous company owners did not take him back. Broken after this outcome, Jurgis sets out to find another job as it was crucial for him to do so. He settles on the most harmful and horrible job there is; work at the fertilizer plant in town just so he can feed his family.

The whole ordeal becomes too much for him to take and he eventually finds comfort in self-medicating with alcohol. Pregnant Ona does not return home one day and it leaves Jurgis anxious about her whereabouts. He searches for her and then finds out that her boss, Connor, forced her to stay and sleep with him. Angry and infuriated with the events, Jurgis attacks Connor and then gets arrested by the police. Because Connor is wealthy, Jurgis has an unfair trial after which he is jailed for a month. Once he gets out, Jurgis finds that his family is thrown out of their home because they could not pay the rent and were sent to live in the boardinghouse they had initially gone to after coming to Chicago. Upon entering the boardinghouse, he finds Ona already in labor. Neither she nor the child survives the difficult labor. After losing both his wife and his unborn child, Jurgis is devastated and lost and again goes back to losing himself in bottles of alcohol.

Teta Elzbieta talks Jurgis out of his misery and asks him to think about his son. She tells him to put an effort at least for his existing son which makes Jurgis snap to his senses and set out to desperately find work again. He finds the company of a wealthy philanthropist woman who took an interest in his family and gave him a stable job at a steel mill. Along with his son Antanas, Jurgis decides to find a new life and lead it happily and to never give up. However, this thought of happiness is also short-lived as Antanas dies after accidental drowning in a mud-logged street. With his last ounces of happiness taken away from him, Jurgis abandons his remaining family and becomes a tramp wandering around the streets.

In the coming winter, he returns to Chicago to find a job digging freight tunnels. In a short amount of time, he injures himself again and gets hospitalized. After he is released, Jurgis sees that he is unable to work and since he has no money, he becomes a beggar. A wealthy man named Freddie Jones gives him a hundred-dollar bill.

Jurgis goes to a bar to get it changed but gets scammed and ends up in a terrible fight. Jurgis is again jailed and reunited with Jack Duane who he had met in the prison before as well. After a good friendship and their release, they teamed up to become robbers. These petty burglaries and robberies led Jurgis to get acquainted with a corrupted, powerful politician Mike Scully and become his “allies”. This leads Jurgis to earn a great deal of black money from scams.

Time passes and Jurgis is again confronted with Phil Connor and he attacks him. This sends Jurgis to jail again and since Connor had a better friendship with Mike before Jurgis, his political connection came of no use. After being released, he lives by charity with zero contact with his family members. He finds out through a friend about Marija’s whereabouts. Jurgis finds out that Marija had become addicted to morphine and became a prostitute in order to support the family and their livelihood. Jurgis later joins a socialist party which believes workers should be factory owners and not the rich politicians. He believes Chicago can reform and become better if it embraces socialism.

Only then people like him who’ve suffered unconditionally in the hands of corrupted capitalists will be able to live their lives peacefully without a brutal amount of hardship. With this belief, Jurgis continues to fight for reformation and hopes to see a better day in Chicago after having lost all of his reasons for happiness.