Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Where depression's just status quo

Current book: The Jungle
Pages read: 209 - 294

Ok, so, after Ona's death in childbirth, Jurgis lucks out and manages to get a job in a steel mill, where he can make a decent wage, though he only gets to come home on weekends. Antanas, his surviving one-year-old son, is his only joy. So, of course, one week while Jurgis is at the steel mill, Antanas meets with an accident in the street and dies. Afterward, Jurgis becomes a tramp for a while by riding trains through the countryside, then learns to mug people for a living, after which he works for the Chicago politicians doctoring votes, and eventually he becomes a strikebreaker. As a strikebreaker, however, he breaks his arm, loses his job, and, having crossed the wrong people, can't get another. He's currently reduced to a life of begging on the street.

Well, clearly, Sinclair is having a dandy time showing the plight of the working man. I'm not saying his descriptions of the horrors of the stockyards and the swindling and abuse inflicted on poor immigrant workers at the turn of the century are unrealistic, but it's obvious that Jurgis represents the Everyman, and as such, all the horrible things that can happen to someone in his socio-economic class are happening to him. Sinclair is laying it on a bit thick, but then again, he's hoping to make a dramatic emotional impact on his reader.

The irony of Jurgis's strikebreaking shouldn't be lost on the reader, either, since he's basically helping the very men who have destroyed his entire life. Sinclair is careful to make it clear, though, with this and all the irresponsible or immoral acts that Jurgis commits, that any man in his position, driven by injury, grief, maddening frustration, and physical hunger, would do the same. And it's true. By the time Jurgis starts mugging toffs for their cash, you're asking yourself why the hell he didn't start doing it sooner.

The thrilling conclusion in tomorrow's episode.

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