The opening of Chapter 2 describes how the foreman for Brown and Company chooses to hire Jurgis, due to his size and strength, and then the narrative continues as a flashback, providing information about how Jurgis and Ona meet and come to America. In Lithuania, both of their families were economically oppressed. After Ona's father died, Jurgis had an opportunity to be with the woman he loved. He takes Ona, his love; Teta Elzbieta, her aunt; Elzbieta's six children; Marija, Ona's cousin; Jonas, Elzbieta's brother; and Jurgis' father, Antenas, to the New World.
For the immigrants, America promised to be the land of opportunity, especially Chicago, where a member of their village had found success. From the onset of their trip, the family was cheated, first by their travel agent, then by officials in New York. After a long journey, and while they were still an hour away, the smells of Packingtown both greeted and offended them. By chance, they meet Jokubus Szedvilas — the man from their village — who runs a delicatessen. He welcomes them to Chicago and sends them to spend the night as boarders for Mrs. Jukniene.
The flashback is important for two reasons. First, it provides the exposition of the novel. The exposition is the explanatory information about characters, setting, and prior actions that enables readers to understand the action that follows. Readers get a glimpse of the life Jurgis and Ona left behind in Lithuania and of their difficult journey to Chicago. Sinclair uses a summary narrative here and throughout most of The Jungle. Instead of dramatizing their journey, he tells what happened. The flashback also illustrates a theme of the book: that oppression is not limited to America but rather to any country involved in a competitive economic system.
The sights, sounds, and especially the smells of the factories, which initially repulse Jurgis and his family, serve as a contrast to both the forest they left behind and the city and lifestyle they eventually grow accustomed to. Sinclair foreshadows many of the hardships and difficulties Jurgis and his family endure. Sinclair must detail the bad (assuredly, because very little good did exist) in order to capture the reality of the situation. By doing so, Sinclair uses the Zolaist approach to writing. The French novelist Emile Zola, one of the founders of the literary technique of naturalism, referred to human beings as "human beasts." This points to Sinclair's use of animal imagery throughout The Jungle.
In this chapter, Sinclair makes use of second person to appeal to the reader, and he mentions scavenging the dump for food; however, this time the food is not just for the chickens but also for human consumption. As the novel progresses, Sinclair reveals more and more disturbing and disgusting details, to demonstrate the downside of capitalism.
In spite of gloomy surroundings, Jurgis is hopeful and optimistic at the end of Chapter 2, declaring, "Tomorrow I shall go there and get a job!" Jurgis is a naïf, used to illustrate appearance versus reality. A naïf is a naïve person who eventually learns the reality and hardships of the world. In the beginning, a naïf is innocent, trusting both people and the socioeconomic system in which he lives; however, as others exploit him, he gradually learns the truth. As Jurgis travels through The Jungle, impatience and pessimism gradually replaces his eagerness and optimism.
silpnas Lithuanian word meaning weak, faint, delicate.
pall an overspreading covering, as of dark clouds or black smoke, that cloaks or obscures in a gloomy, depressing way.
felicitous used or expressed in a way suitable to the occasion; appropriate.
sordid squalid; depressingly wretched.