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Most Disturbing Scene in The Jungle

Posted by: Sara Paccione | November 7, 2010 | No Comment |

Although there are many graphic descriptions in The Jungle that can be very disturbing, I would find it somewhat difficult to pick one that is worse than all the others.  However, there is one passage at the beginning of chapter XIII that I found to be very emotionally disturbing:

“During this time that Jurgis was looking for work occurred the death of little Kristoforas, one of the children of Teta Elzbieta… He was the last of Teta Elzbieta’s children, and perhaps he had been intended by nature to let her know that she had had enough.  At any rate he was wretchedly sick and undersized; he had the rickets, and though he was over three years old, he was no bigger than an ordinary child of one.  All day long he would crawl around the floor in a filthy little dress, whining and fretting; because the floor was full of draughts he was always catching cold, and snuffling because his nose ran.  This made him a nuisance and a source of endless trouble in the family.  For his mother, with unnatural perversity, loved him best of all her children, and made a perpetual fuss over him – would let him do anything undisturbed, and would burst into tears when his fretting drove Jurgis wild” (Sinclair 123).

I thought that this was incredibly unsettling because for most of the book, the capitalist system is criticized for its social Darwinist aspects.  However, this passage shows the family acting in a similar fashion, believing that the sick child is nothing more than a “nuisance.”  I also wonder if there is a hint of eugenicist ideology in Sinclair’s words.  When he says that the child might have been “intended by nature to let her know that she had had enough,” does he mean this in terms of her own health and ability to have children, or does he mean that she is no longer having children that can benefit the rest of the family and society?  Elzbieta’s love for her sick child is even described as “unnatural perversity.”  How is it perverse to love and care for a desperately sick child, no matter how it might affect the family financially?

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