In the “Gilded Age” immigrants from all over the world became part of America’s working nation in hopes of finding a new and better life for themselves and their families. As more and more new families moved to America with high hopes, more and more people fell victims to the organized society, politics, and institutions better described as, the system. The system was like a jungle, implying that only the strong survived and the weak perished. Bosses always picked the biggest and strongest from a throng of people desperate for work, and if you were big and strong, you were more likely to get the job then if you were small and weak.
Packing town was also a Jungle in the sense that the people with more authority or political power acted as predators and preyed on the working people, taking their money unfairly because of the their lack of knowledge on the pitfalls of the New World and their inability to speak and understand the universal language adequately. The unjust and corrupt system kept workers from speaking out when they felt they had been wronged and punished them when they did. As a result of the system, men women and even children were overworked, underpaid and taken advantage of.
Working immigrants weren’t any better off in American then they were in their homeland, as they soon discovered. Dreams that any people had of America were washed away by the corrupt ways of the system. In the book The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, the Rudkus family continually found themselves prey to the system. After Ona found a job, to keep it, she was expected to do things that she didn’t want to, such as earning money in a prostitution ring for her “forelady”. Ona, being a faithful wife, didn’t want any part in the prostitution chain and was reluctant to be a part of it, but a job was no easy thing to find or keep in Packingtown.
So Ona joined the chain, for her family’s sake. As if being a prostitute on her spare time for her “forelady” wasn’t enough, Ona was also threatened and sexually harassed by her boss, Conner, but was powerless to do anything for fear of losing her job. So, ultimately, it was the system that made it okay for the bosses to treat Ona so cruelly, and it was also the system that kept her from protesting or speaking out. The extra time that Ona had to spend outside of work due to the prostitution ring and her boss had kept her coming home once in awhile and this worried Jurgis.
As a result of Ona’s truancy in coming home, Jurgis found out that Ona had slept with her boss. The enraged Jurgis then set out to kill the boss that had taken advantage of his wife, but only succeeding in falling victim to the system once again, for Jurgis was put into jail for attacking Ona’s boss. The boss had been wrong to take advantage of Ona, which caused Jurgis to act against the system and nearly kill Ona’s boss. While they were both wrong, Jurgis is the only one being punished due to the unfair ways of the system.
As punishment, Jurgis did time in prison and was blacklisted, which meant that he could never get a job in the stockyards again. The loss of the Rudkus family’s house is, yet, another example of how the family continues to be the prey of the system. Soon after the family bought the house, they discovered that there were many hidden costs that they had missed due to there inferior knowledge of the new land and it’s language. Hidden costs included interest on the house due to the debt they owed, insurance that was to be renewed yearly, and the family also had to pay for any damages to the house on their own, such as plumbing problems.
Since most of the adults could not work for different reasons, they relied heavily on the children to go out and sell papers to earn money. The children earned very little, and the family could barely buy enough food as well as make the house payments! So as a result of the system, which deceived the Rudkus family into thinking they were getting the house for a reasonable price, they lost the house which family members had died to pay for.
It was the system that made it okay for the Jurgis family to be cheated out of their hard earned money. In the time period in which The Jungle takes place, I sincerely believe that it is the system that defeats individual people or groups of people. The nature of the workers in The Jungle is to work hard and try and make a good living. This is their nature because that is why they came to America. They did not come to be unsuccessful, but to have a better life. And in doing so, they knew that they had to work hard.
It was clearly the system that victimized and defeated people before the working Americans united in a struggle to achieve the gains that they have accumulated. Improvements did not come easily. Organizing unions, winning the right to representation, using the collective bargaining process as the core of their activities, struggling against bias and discrimination, the working men and women of America have built a trade union movement of formidable proportions. In this past century, American labor has played a central role in the elevation of the American standard of living.
The benefits which unions have negotiated for their members are, in most cases, widespread in the economy and enjoyed by millions of our fellow citizens outside the labor movement. It is often hard to remember that what we take for granted-vacations with pay, pensions, health and welfare protection, grievance and arbitration procedures. Holidays never existed on any meaningful scale until unions fought and won them for working people. Now, in this time period, anyone can be successful and happy unless it is their own nature not to be.