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Justification of Violence in The Jungle

This page will show how the violence in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is justified using Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Throughout the novel Jurgis and his family were oppressed by American capitalism until they were broken or dead. Jurgis came over to America for the opportunity to earn money and start a family with his new wife, Ona. From the beginning times were rough especially with his son, Antanas, being born. Conditions only worsened when Jurgis found out that Ona’s boss, Phil Connor, had raped her and forced her into prostitution. This caused Jurgis to react violently: 

"To Jurgis [Conner's] whole presence reeked of the crime he had committed; the touch of his body was madness to him—it set every nerve of him atremble, it aroused all the demon in his soul. It had worked its will upon Ona, this great beast—and now he had it, he had it! It was his turn now! Things swam blood before him, and screamed aloud in his fury, lifting his victim and smashing his head upon the floor" (166).

Here, Sinclair refers to Connor only as a "beast" to vilify him and justify Jurgis's assault. The way Sinclair describes it makes it seem as though Jurgis had to attack Connor, that this "great beast" was "arousing the demon" in Jurgis's soul.                  . 

Despite this attempt to justify Jurgis's violence, Jurgis was found guilty for assault and sentenced to a month in jail. Connor’s abuse of power, according to Marx, came from capitalism and this reaction by Jurgis is the proletariat taking “position of the ruling class to win the battle of democracy” (Marx Chapter 2).

According to Marx the working class must use violence to oppose all political action of their oppressors (Marx Chapter 3). Therefore when Jurgis attacked Connor, even the second time, it would be considered the proletariat rising against the bourgeoisie’s capitalistic greed. Even when Jurgis ran off to pursue his criminal career by mugging strangers his actions were justified by the inevitable Communist revolution that will overthrow Democracy. Jurgis was fed up by the greed and corruption that came with capitalism and took a stand against its political influence by also rigging elections for Mike Scully. According to the Communist Manifesto Jurgis is the first of the proletariat to rebel against “the machine” that has enslaved the proletariat (Marx Chapter 1). Marx was against this type of worker abuse and saw capitalism as the source for the abuse of power and greed. The Jungle can be perceived as the start of the first revolution that will topple capitalism according to Marxism. By the end of the novel Jurgis joins the socialist party because he sees the evils of capitalism. He, like Marx, realizes there needs to be a change in capitalist governments, but Jurgis wants to change the United States legally. He does not want to topple the government, but bring about change using the unions and socialist party in the terms of the law. The corruption and void of morality in capitalism is most evident in the first chapter of the novel. At Jurgis’ wedding the old people are described to be “trembling” while discussing what happened to the veselija (Sinclair 12). They were asking what happened to people chipping in for the wedding so the couple, like Jurgis and Ona, would have nothing to worry about. Sinclair decrees that, “they no longer cared about the laws of the veselija… they only cared about themselves” (Sinclair 12). This quote sets the tone for the rest of the book and how capitalism has destroyed the necessity to help others because people only care about their well being.


BY: Carlos Fernandez

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