Jurgis Rudkus as a Dynamic Character in Upton Sinclair's the Jungle

Topics: Happiness, Life Pages: 5 (2038 words) Published: January 9, 2007
The Jungle (1906), by Upton Sinclair, is a story mainly about the life and turmoil of a man who came to American in hopes that he will become a free, rich man with a beautiful wife, Ona, and happy family; this man is the young Jurgis Rudkus, a strong, energetic Lithuanian whose personality and life are all changed several times over the coarse of the story. Major— usually tragic— events that occur in the story serve as catalysts for Jurgis's dramatic, almost upsetting, transformations. There were four major turning points in Jurgis's life: after he loses his job and is forced to work at a fertilizer mill; when he loses his wife and children; when he is incorporated into the criminal and political underworlds; and when he picks his life back up again. These events in his life all trigger reactions that are very much unlike the first Jurgis Rudkus we are introduced to— his spirit squashed, his family either in despair, dying or dead, and all of his money gone, Jurgis's dream is thoroughly shattered. Coming to America, marrying Ona Lukoszaite, and to live the ‘American Dream' were Jurgis Rudkis's only aspirations, but once there, him and his family's unfortunate outcome was ominously foreshadowed, and the Jurgis that we were first introduced to, whose motto was once to "work harder" (Sinclair 17), slowly turns into an alcoholic due to terrible living and working conditions. He is a man "with the mighty shoulders and giant hands," "great black eyes with beetling brows, and thick black hair that curled in waves about his ears" (4), and an immensely strong physique, who rarely loses his temper, even when treated unfairly or when robbed. After living in America for a while, and with most of the family having to acquire jobs to pay for the hidden fees of the newly bought house— which was a sham of a deal in which the whole family could lose everything they ever paid on the house if they missed just one month's payment— the loss of one of more jobs within the family could mean the loss of the house, and Jurgis does just that: he loses his job due to a very badly injured ankle. After it did heal, the only job he could find was at a fertilizer plant, which was not a glamorous job, to say the least, and he would come home every day smelling rancid from the chemicals absorbing into his skin. The downward, spiraling slope of no return began here. The once great Jurgis develops a drinking problem, and it is the first sign of his loss of morals, and his incorporation into the corrupt world that is Packingtown. More tragedies occur, family members die from sickness, and when Jurgis found out that Phil Connor, Ona's boss, had raped her, he "[lunged] with all the power of his arm and body, [and] struck him fairly between the eyes and knocked him backward;" then he "buried his fingers in his throat" and when men tried to pull him off he "bent down and sunk his teeth into the man's cheek; and when they [the men] tore him away he was dripping in blood, and little ribbons of skin were hanging in his mouth" (152). Jurgis is thrown in jail, leaving his family to suffer and wither away for thirty three days, and when released, everything has fallen apart. Dismayed and confused Jurgis returns to his house, only to find it with a new paint job, new shingles, and everything fixed, and oddest of all "a boy [came] out, a stranger to [Jurgis]; a big, fat, rosy-cheeked youngster" (174). The road ahead for Jurgis was even grayer yet. If Ona's death, along with her stillborn child, was not enough change Jurgis forever, than the death of his only son, Antanas— the only real light left in Jurgis's life— surly did. After that, it can be assumed that Jurgis has completely been submerged into the pits of despair; with no one to truly love him and no family to take care of, he did not "[make] for the nearest saloon" as he had done "[w]hen his wife had died" (210), instead, he fled. He jumped on a train car and "he went on, tearing up all the flowers...

Cited: Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Massachusetts: The Viking Press, Inc., 1906.
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