Immoral Decision-Making in the Jungle by Upton Sinclair

moral behavior, community is impossible. Such is the message Upton Sinclair presents to readers in his novel, The Jungle. Throughout the novel the Sinclair shows immoral behavior's destruction of the very fabric of a functioning society. He creates a Chicago that is dirty, dark, hopeless, and nourished by immoral behavior; this world, as he illustrates over and over again throughout the novel, lacks functioning and healthy social groups. To show the effect of immoral decision-making on community, Sinclair presents the reader with Ona, and Jurgis' immigrant family. In the opening of the novel, he shows them as being part of a community-based culture. They are moral. They work for the good of their community, their family. In the world of Sinclair's novel however, such a community is not allowed to endure. He sets their world in immediate contrast with the corrupt, immoral, and floundering society of Chicago, where the inhabitants' main concern is with personal welfare and gain. As the novel progresses, the moral-decision making functioning family turns to immoral behavior. At first, it is in the interest of preserving their community. Finally, however, beaten down by the harsh reality of Sinclair's Chicago, the family becomes completely corrupted and breaks apart. Members forsake the familial group to ensure their own survival.

Sinclair sets up an example of functioning community in the first chapter of the book. Because Ona and Jurgis consider their wedding celebration a community affair, they think to provide for their guests' needs. As there were as many infants as adult guests coming to the wedding and "there was no other place for the babies to be part of the preparations for the evening consisted of a collection of cribs and carriages in one corner" (3). Instead of creating prohibitions against bringing the babies, Ona and Jurgis' family add extra work to the wedding preparation by providing for their neighbors. During the wedding celebration, Sinclair further emphasizes the family's innate cultural reliance on social cooperation; he tells the reader, that at Lithuanian weddings "the guests are expected to pay for the entertainment [of dancing with the bride]; if they be proper guests, they will see that there is a neat sum left over for the bride and bridegroom to start life upon" (13). Latent in this custom is a belief in communal support. As a community, guests provide not only for the expense of the celebration, but also for the beginning of domestic life of the newlyweds. By easing the couple's financial burden, the guests help them become functional members of society: they are not immediately riddled with debt. Sinclair counters this belief in community, however, with the harsh reality of life in his Chicago, a reality that will plague the characters throughout the book. Many of the guests leave without paying; he tells the reader, that "they would come in crowds and fill themselves with a fine dinner, and then sneak off" (15). The family's expectation of communal support is disappointed in the backdrop of Sinclair's novel.

Sinclair's example of a functioning moral-decision-based society does not crumble so easily. The family maintains their functionality. Their not having enough money to pay for the wedding is seen as a problem not just for the couple, but for the group: at first it is discussed as "an anxious conference between Teta Elzbieta and Dede Antanas, and a few of the more intimate friends of the family" and then Sinclair says that "more and more friends gathered" (15, 17). Furthermore, the family does do not react negatively to the dishonesty of their guests. Jurgis simply says "we will pay them somehow. I will work harder'" (18). They come together, as a family, as a functional community to deal with the problem.

The family suffers more of the inhuman actions of a morally corrupt and disjointed world throughout the novel. At first they cling to the notion of community to survive. They turn to their local parish priest help them earn more money. Teta Elizabieta takes Stanislovas to him to get false documentation so that he can work to help support the family (76). The priest's implied compliance in this deception suggests his involvement and his belief in the welfare of the community he lives in; he looks out for them. Despite this belief in fraternity, the family is more often than not confronted with the hardships of malformed community. When Jurgis joins the union he does not become part of a society, but is used for others' personal gain. A fellow member takes Jurgis under his wing and offers to help him get his citizenship papers; he claims that it is to help Jurgis but really it is to buy his vote in an election (99).

The family is the foundational institution of society; in The Jungle, it too is under attack. Throughout the novel, the family's coworkers, supervisors, and bosses continually try to break up the family unit. Jack Duane tells Jurgis that his family was broken up by his father's failed business ventures (175). His reaction was to rally against the society that let his family fall to ruin; he became a thief. Unlike his friend, Jurgis and his family try to maintain their hold on and dream of a functional society despite the world's attempts to tear them from it.

Ona is shunned for being a reminder of functional community to her fellow coworkers: a family girl. She realizes "that the real reason Miss Henderson [her boss] hated her was that she was a decent married girl" (113). While coworkers who moonlight as whores are given preferential treatment, Ona and other "decent girls" are let go to make room for them (113). The fact that Ona is an honest and faithful wife places her job, her source of income in danger.

Her place in a morally based and functional society is again threatened by her boss, Connor. He forces her to be his mistress. By causing her to commit adultery, he threatens to break-up her family. Despite his desire to remove her from the institutions she represents, Ona maintains her devotion to her society, to her family. She tells Jurgis, "I did not want -- to do it I tried -- I tried not to do it. I only did it -- to save us"; despite her infidelity, she remains loyal to her community and only risks her relationship with Jurgis for sake of the family (160). To her mind, the disgrace will allow her family to survive: "he said if I would -- if I -- we would all of us be sure of work -- always" (160). A working family is a functional family; it lives, it survives. Ona makes an immoral decision to sustain her community.

The ethical sense of right and wrong that is inherent in many societies is also drawn into question in The Jungle. Sinclair exposes the reader to Jurgis and Ona's ideas of honorable behavior during the wedding scene. Speaking of the tradition of providing for the married couple discussed earlier, Sinclair tells the reader that to the family's mind, "the veselija is a compact, a compact not expressed, but therefore only the more binding upon all" (15). There is a code in the family's culture that is so deep that it is doesn't need to be written or spoken of; there is a sense of ethical behavior, a sense of right and wrong. Inhabitants of Chicago threaten the family's latent belief in that system in the beginning of the novel.

But the wedding isn't the only time that the family's sense of an inherent right and wrong is challenged. Though her boss rapes and forces Ona into being his lover, though he injures her honor, it is Jurgis and not the boss who is sent to jail. One wrong is punished, Jurgis' physically assaulting Connor, but not the other, Ona's rape. Jurgis acts immorally by attacking his boss, but again he does it to preserve the honor of the family. Chicago society in Sinclair's book has no accountability for the needs of its members. Though hurt while performing his job, Jurgis ' boss feels no compulsion or responsibility toward him; he is told that" it had not been possible to keep his job for him" (131).

Jurgis and his relatives abandon the community of their family and join the milieu of Sinclair's Chicago. They too turn immoral and self-serving. Still seeking the familiarity of belonging to a community, Jurgis seems to find brotherhood among organized crime. The group's unity, unlike that of his family, is immorally based; its fraternity lies in a corrupt "ethical" notion of, "it's a case of us or the other fellow, and I say the other fellow every time" (268). As in all groups, Jurgis is taught the foundations of the new society; he is taught "when to beg and when to steal and just how to do both" (233). Instead of anxiously seeking work to honestly…