The narrator of The Jungle focuses largely on Jurgis Rudkus and his feelings, but we also get some insight into the thought processes of the less important characters.
The narrator moves relatively effortlessly into the minds of everyone in the book. However, while this third-person narrator sees all and knows all, he is not totally objective in tone.
Take, for example, this passage early on in the novel, as Jurgis's family approaches Packingtown for the first time:. A full hour before the party reached the city they had begun to note the perplexing changes in the atmosphere. It grew darker all the time, and upon the earth the grass seemed to grow less green.
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They were not sure that it was unpleasant, this odor; some might have called it sickening, but their taste in odors was not developed. First of all, we find this passage interesting because it shows that the business of the slaughterhouses has a subtle influence on the very geography of the land around them.
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The unhealthy atmosphere of these places is killing the grass and filling the air with "a strange, pungent odor. The narrator strongly hints that even the atmosphere of Packingtown is bad, with its dark smoke and smell that "some might have called […] sickening. The characters themselves "not sure that it was unpleasant," though, because "their taste in odors was not developed.
The narrator is sharing foreshadowing with us , the readers, but the characters are too ignorant and unfamiliar with the setting to notice all of these hints of future misery. Jurgis becomes an unthinking animal, roused to anger by an attack on his family. He responds with his own violence, eschewing the structures of justice and order. By becoming animals, Jurgis and his family fall victim to the horrors of Social Darwinism. How is the industrialization process responsible for the degradation of workers?
Review and Interpretation of the Movie Jungle Book
According to Sinclair, the growing industrialization of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries degrades workers and their families through mechanisms of use and abuse. Growing industrial corporations, such as the meat packing plants, seek to use the resources of workers until those workers can no longer sustain their pace of work. In this way, industries see workers not as humans but as impersonal resources. This allows them to deny human civility.
Sinclair argues that in a capitalist society, the result will always be that workers are degraded as humans in order to maximize profit and power for the elite few. The Jungle is an example of muckraking propaganda, a form of journalism that was especially prevalent in the early twentieth century. Sinclair purposefully sought to write a novel that would elicit strong emotional and moral responses from individuals. These individuals, Sinclair believed, would then feel compelled to act in certain moral ways, especially in advocating for the rights of workers.
Sinclair's novel did not always produce the intended effect, however, since the reform of the food industry was the chief result of his efforts rather than the reform of working conditions. Sinclair's novel falls into the American Naturalist tradition. This tradition created characters whose narratives are completely reliant on the natural world around them.
In Sinclair's novel, Jurgis and his family are victims of the natural world they inhabit. Their lives are dependent upon the "horrible nature of nature," as Sinclair describes it. They have no internal mechanisms of thought or criticism to help them escape the horrors of the lives they lead.
The novel has been criticized for relying too heavily upon Naturalism and not allowing the characters to develop any sense of internal agency. If Jurgis Rudkus is the novel's protagonist, who would you say is the novel's antagonist? Sinclair does not use a single character as an antagonist to Jurgis and his family.
Sinclair's The Jungle from a Contemporary Critical Perspective
Instead, Sinclair's antagonist is the system of capitalism that oppresses its workers. While the packing plant owners are villains in the novel, Sinclair does not suggest that there is anything innately horrible within their selves. Instead, these men use a corrupt economic system to oppress others.
This is a horrible action, certainly, but such actions would not take place without systems of economics and politics.
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Jurgis is not necessarily better off in a physical way at the novel's end. He is still in poverty, though he does hold a steady job as a hotel porter. Jurgis is better off, however, in that the ideas of socialism have intellectually and spiritually awakened him.
These ideas have brought into his life hope, something that was lacking in Jurgis's life in America.
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In this way, Jurgis can return to a state of empowerment that he felt when first coming to America. Some critics panned the novel's ending, claiming that by not resolving Jurgis's struggle in any comprehensive way, the novel does not complete its artistic mission. Sinclair uses the body as the center of capitalism's torment on his characters.
The literal and symbolic meaning of the jungle in Sinclair's narrative
While many of the hardships that the family first endures begin as mental hardships, they quickly become physical hardships as well. Because Sinclair's characters have little inner mental and emotional development, the physical body becomes the symbol for how a person is enslaved and broken down by the systems of greed and corruption in Chicago's Packingtown. This is especially true for the female characters in the novel.