The Nymph Vs. The Shepard Essay, Research Paper
It’s a Jungle out there
The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair, is a disturbing tail about the darker side of
America. In this book the reader is introduced to several characters from Lithuania who
have dreams of rising from the depths of poverty, using the American dream to attain a
life full of freedom, finical security, hope and happiness. Instead these characters are
bombarded with slavery, manipulation, depression and hard realizations about “true
American society”. These realizations lead one of the characters to Socialism, a system
Sinclair seems to find more agreeable than capitalism.
In the first chapter of this book the reader is introduced to Jurgis, a hard working,
limited minded young man who is about to wed a young lady named Ona. Jurgis’ big day
is one of the only glimpses of hope that the reader sees in this book. It is the only time
when the future of these people looks decent in any shape or form. The guests are
dancing and the band plays while others drink themselves into a stupor. The general
mood is one of contentment. However, even in this scene Upton Sinclair slowly begins
to integrate the Lithuanian group into America’s harsh society. Teta Elzbieta noted this
phenomenon while at the wedding:
“A trouble was come upon them. The Veselija is a compact, a compact not expressed, but
therefore only the more binding upon all. Every one’s share was different-and yet every one knew
perfectly well what his share was, and strove to give a little more. Now, however, since they had
come to the new country, all this was changing; it seemed as if there must be some subtle poison in
the air that one breathed here- it was affecting all the young men at once. They would come in
crowds and fill themselves with a fine dinner, and then sneak off. One would throw another’s hat
out of the window, and both would go out to get it and neither could be seen again. Or now and
then half a dozen of them would get together and march out openly, staring at you and making fun
of you to your face. Still others, worse yet, would crowd about the bar, and at the expense of the
host drink themselves sodden, paying not the least attention to any one, and leaving it to be thought
that either they had danced with the bride already, or meant to later on.”
On the whole, however, the wedding gave new hope for the future. Hope that Lithuanian
traditions could survive in America and hope that diligence and hard work would allow
this family to survive and prosper. Jurgis tells us this with his very attitude. He is ready
to take on America because he believes that hard work is the only thing that matters in a
“Leave it to me; leave it to me. I will earn more money- I will work harder.”
In the third chapter of the Jungle we are introduced to a meat packing plant where
pigs are being slaughtered so that they can be turned into meat. In this portion of the
book the description of the pigs are given human qualities and it seems very obvious that
the reader is suppose to draw some form of symbolism from these humanistic hogs:
“One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without
beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog squeal of the universe. Was it
permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs,
where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature.
Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old,
some young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an
individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-
confidence, of self importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone
about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his
pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless,
remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it-it did its cruel will with him, as
if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out
his life. And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog
personality was precious, to whom these hog squeals and agonies had no meaning? Who would
take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the
meaning of his sacrifices? Perhaps all of this was in the thoughts of our humble minded Jurgis, as
he turned to go on with the rest of the party and muttered ‘Dieve-but I am glad I am not a hog.
This passage serves three functions in this book. The first, is to strongly imply the
slavery and injustice that is the lives of these pigs. The second, is to give these hogs
human qualities and emotions so that it is possible to make their ultimate slaughter even
more horrible than it already is. These pigs begin with desire, faith and individuality.
However, before their destruction, the pigs realize that they are worthless beings in
existence only for the pleasure they can bring to the society they are in. After these
realizations they are destroyed in the cold calculating machine never to be heard from
again. The pigs are given humanity only to have it stripped away from them for the sake
of the society. Ironically, Jurgis says “Dieve- but I am glad I am not a Hog.” Jurgis does
not realize that these hogs are playing out the role of his life. This passage serves to
foreshadow the future of Jurgis and his family, while giving the reader a sense of how
they will be ultimately taken to their demise in the calculating machine of America.
Jurgis and the others, during the rest of the book, are faced with many problems as
they try to survive the American rat race. They are manipulated into buying a home they
really could not afford and forced to pay extra rent that was not part of their original deal.
This was a direct form of capitalism trying to destroy the family from Lithuania. But
perhaps a more disturbing manipulation in the book is the rape of Ona.
“At the very first, she said. She spoke as if in a trance. It was all-it was their plot-Miss
Henderson’s plot. She hated me. And he-he wanted me. He used to speak to me-out on the platform.
Then he began to-to make love to me. He offered me money. He begged me-he said he loved me. Then he
threatened me. He knew all about us, he knew we would starve. He knew your boss-he knew Marija’s. He
would hound us to death, he said- then he said if I would-if I-we would all of us be sure of work-always.
Then on day he caught hold of me-he would not let go-he-he-.”
Finally, the reader is allowed to see the largest dehumanization that their is, the act of
The status of the family gets even worse and Jurgis is turned from a good hard
working man into a crook. It appears to be the only way that he can survive. One day
after many long years of trials and tribulations Jurgis finds another way. A socialist
meeting brings new hope to Jurgis and an understanding about a better way of life. His
new way of life is now confronted with his old way of life when he meets with Marija.
Marija had nothing on but a kimono and a pair of stockings yet she proceeded to dress
before Jurgis, and without even taking the trouble to close the door. He had by this time divined
what sort of place he was in; and he had seen a great deal of the world since he had left home, and
was not easy to shock-and yet it gave him a painful start that Marija should do this. They had
always been decent people at home, and it seemed to him that the memory of old times ought to
have ruled her. But then he laughed at himself for a fool. What was he, to be pretending to
By this point in the book both Marija and Jurgis have accepted the
dehumanization process and in the case of Marija she has not only accepted it but she is
using that process to make a living. All of the pretenses are gone. What began at the
wedding has been finished here. These are the same people that became offended that the
young Lithuanian men would leave the wedding and their traditions behind. Now, it
simply did not matter. There was not pretending to decency. The last blow to capitalism
is given in a realization Marija makes when she is speaking to Jurgis.
“No, she answered I don’t blame you. We never have-any of us. You did your best-the job was
too much for us. She paused a moment, then added: We were too ignorant-that was the trouble. We didn’t
stand any chance. If I’d known what I know now we’d have won out.
You would have come here? Said Jurgis
Yes, she answered; but that’s not what I meant. I meant you-how differently you would have
behaved-about Ona When people are starving, the other continued, and they have anything with a price,
the out to sell it, I say. I guess you realize it now when it’s too late. Ona could have taken care of us all, in
the beginning. Marija spoke without emotion, as one who had come to regard things form the business
point of view.
These lines form Marija are spoken like a true Capitalist and the horrors of her
transformation are complete. She, truly, is a business woman and part of the machine that
transforms others who come like she was. Socialism, in this book wins out over
capitalism, because the evidence for it are overwhelming. The tragedy of this society
can’t help but force one’s views into the realm of Socialism, because if one does not
conform his/her thinking than that individual will lose his/her humanity.