Summary and Analysis
The variety of jobs that the various members of Jurgis' family work in Packingtown enables them to experience firsthand the various "Packingtown swindles." Jurgis turns to alcohol to deal with his frustrations and sense of defeat. He does not succumb to the temptation all at once, but rather he gradually submits to its false promises of escape. While Jurgis starts to drink, Ona's deterioration accelerates. She has fits of hysteria and nervousness that Jurgis cannot understand and Elzbieta cannot explain. Though she blames it on another pregnancy, Jurgis thinks it is something more than that.
In Sinclair's most graphic example of business abuse — the sweeping of poison, rats, and rat dung into the food vat — he is most likely employing a form of hyperbole, an extended exaggeration to make a point. Admittedly, abuses within the system existed, many conditions were unsanitary, and workers were apathetic; but Sinclair once again employs literary license to gain support for his characters and his political ideology.
As is the standard of naturalistic fiction, the stock characters in The Jungle are driven to drink or prostitution. In an industrialized society, no other options exist. Curiously, Jurgis blames marriage and sex for his woes and not the owners as he gradually begins to drink, succumbing to the temptations of alcohol. Alcohol becomes the solution for many of his problems for some time to come. Ona's prostitution is only foreshadowed, but its effects are evident. She becomes hysterical and breaks down often and is compared to a wounded animal. And the way of life in the jungle is that the wounded are destroyed and devoured.
torpor dullness; apathy.
specter any object of fear or dread.
prodigy a person, thing, or act so extraordinary as to inspire wonder.