The Jungle: Showcasing Immigrant Disappointment in The American Dream

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In Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Sinclair expounded the realistic experience of an immigrant trying to live the American Dream. Sinclair revealed the harsh and grueling life of immigrants trying to provide the basics of life on a day to day basis. The immigrants lived a miserable existence because of the harsh work environments and jobs they endured. The Jungle illustrated lessons immigrants could have learned before making the decision to come to America and pursue the American Dream: they could not completely trust anyone; they would sacrifice all of their time for work and received very little in return; and the American Dream was not all it was said to be.

The Jungle showed how immigrants could not trust anyone and how they were always being taken advantage of. Sinclair illustrates a common practice used when immigrants tried to buy property by writing, ‘“the property was said to be merely rented until the last payment had been made, the purpose being to make it easier to turn the party out if he did not make the payments”’ (Sinclair 57). Jurgis and the family were going to buy a house for $1,500 and make $12 monthly payments, but the day they went to sign the papers and officially buy the house they found out it was only to be rented to them. The family would not own the house until they had completely paid it off in nearly nine years. The family was lied to and taken advantage of to make it easier for them to be evicted if they could not make the payments on time. Ona, Jurgis’s wife, explains that she was physically taken advantage of when she says, ‘“I did not want–to do it,”… “I tried–I tried not to do it. I only did it–to save us. It was our only chance”’ (Sinclair 156). Ona was raped by her boss Phil Connor, and she felt like she had no choice but to let him take advantage of her because his power was so high in the industry. She feared that if she refused or told anyone Phil Connor would have ruined the entire family’s chance of keeping their jobs or ever getting one again.

In another incident Jurgis has a $100 bill and goes to the saloon to break the bill. The bartender in the saloon makes Jurgis buy a beer for five cents first but only gives him 95 cents back when he should receive $99. ‘“My change!” he cried– “the rest of my hundred!”’ (Sinclair 254). Jurgis gets violent with the bartender and is taken into custody by the policemen. The bartender tells his side of the story and lies saying that Jurgis was a violent drunk. The judge does not believe the true story Jurgis tells. Jurgis is dismissed as a lying alcoholic and has to spend ten days in jail. The immigrants were cheated, lied to, and taken advantage of by the higher powers of the town and the work industry. An immigrant stood no chance of winning a battle against anyone else who was not an immigrant. The people of Packingtown thought they had rule over the immigrants. The immigrants in The Jungle worked endless hours with wages that would barely provide for them. With the number of hours they worked, all they had time for was sleep. It took a whole family with working members to just make enough for necessities. Jurgis’s first job was sweeping in a meat factory for 12 hours a day, and “he went home to the family with the tidings that he had earned more than a dollar and a half in a single day” (Sinclair 46)! Jurgis spent half his day working, and he received very little for his labor in harsh factory conditions. Jurgis’s father, Dede Antanas, was offered a job by another worker who was “willing to pay one-third of his wages” (Sinclair 63) for Dede to do his work. Tamoszius Kuszleika explained to Jurgis that it was normal in Packingtown for a person to exploit those in lesser positions in this way. Dede Antanas was so desperate he took this job for a fraction the normal pay.

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Meanwhile, Jurgis got a new job because a settlement worker comes and visits the family at the tenement. His new job was dangerous and described as, “Liquid fire would leap from these caldrons and scatter like bombs below–and men were working there, seeming careless, so that Jurgis caught his breath with fright” (Sinclair 213). Jurgis’s new dangerous job in the steel works was in South Chicago, and he had to stay in a boarding house and only came home to the family on the weekends. This new job makes Jurgis question his dangerous work. The immigrants came to America to experience a wonderful life, but spent all their time working in terrible conditions with no time for anything else. The reason immigrants came to America was for a better life and the American Dream they had heard about.

The American Dream was the belief that anyone in America could become rich if they worked hard. The Jungle exposed the truth of what this American Dream really looked like for immigrants. Jurgis realized quickly that men had to do the dirty work. “Jurgis had come there, and thought he was going to make himself useful, and rise and become a skilled man; but he would soon find out his errors–for nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good work” (Sinclair 64). Jurgis thought by working hard he would become rich and be living the American Dream, but he realizes the work he could obtain could not get him there. The family learns only after a few days that “it was also a land of high prices, and that in it the poor man was almost as poor as in any other corner of the earth” (Sinclair 31). Jurgis figured out that coming to America did not promise him fortune; he realized in that moment that they would still struggle. “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 and be strong… They had played the game and they had lost” (Sinclair 143). The family took the step of moving to America to be free and live the great life that they thought America offered; however, they only experienced a life that tore them down and ultimately took away lives.

The American Dream was nothing as it seemed. In Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, the author showed the true life of an immigrant trying to fulfill the American Dream and highlighted the struggles which came with the pursuit of that dream. Immigrants faced impediments such as being lied to about many aspects of their new lives, extreme working conditions that often involved dangerous jobs for which they received barely enough pay to sustain them, and the false idealism of the American Dream. The Jungle served as a harsh illustration of the realistic and non-frivolous life the eager immigrants endured.

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