Luke’s Paper


Luke Benz

English 012

Essay 1 Outline


Fresh Meat: Re-examining The Jungle Through the Lens of Vermont’s Migrant Labor Population



  • Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is probably best remembered for the significant reform it brought to food production, namely the meatpacking industry. This, however, was neither the sole nor the intended purpose of the expose. Rather, Sinclair’s work offers a glimpse into the life of immigrants working in Chicago’s meatpacking industry and the failure of the American Dream. Sinclair himself was quoted as saying “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident, I hit it in the stomach.” While The Jungle is a great historical resource, many of the societal breakdowns that Sinclair exposes as still present today.
  • Explain a little background about my project
  • “This is the new Civil Rights struggle of the 21st Century, this whole immigration situation” (Julia Alvarez)
  • One thing that really stands outs when examining my project and The Jungle together is the importance of health in the success of the American Dream.


Thesis: When re-examining The Jungle through the lens of Vermont’s migrant labor population, it becomes apparent that the pillars of the American Dream hinge upon good health, something that is too often overlooked and taken for granted.



The Jungle

Health problems:

  • Decline of Jurgis’ Health: Compare condition in which he arrives vs. after a few years
    • When he first arrives, Jurgis is able to receive a job in thirty minutes
    • After a few years, he’s been ground down and can’t get a job
  • Jurgis’s Ankle
    • He can’t work and eventually his family loses their home, a key staple of the American Dream.
    • Forces kids out of school, more family to work. They eventually fall into bad health and the cycle continues.
  • Decrease of workers in winter
    • Beneficial to meatpacking plants to have hurt workers because they could fire them and get new workers
    • Weeds out the weak
  • Stanislovas’s Frostbite
    • Terrified of returning to work after the injury
  • Inability to access proper doctor when Ona gives birth
    • Death of Ona and subsequent effects on Jurgis



Analysis:  Perhaps the two most recognizable pillars of the American Dream are house ownership and moving up in society through hard work. Jurgis comes to American a blind believer in the American Dream, believing he can accomplish everything through hard work. Throughout the book, we hear the phrase “I will work harder”, but as Jurgis’ health goes, this symbolic phrase breaks down, simply because when he’s hurt he can’t work harder and there is someone else to take his place. Another key breakdown Jurgis’ American Dream is the loss of his home. While the home is certainly a trap for naïve immigrant laborers, it is Jurgis’ inability to work that ultimately forces the family to abandon the house



(Possible quotes to draw from)

  • “Jurgis was confident in his ability to get work for himself, unassisted by anyone. As we have said before, he was not mistaken in this He had gone to Brown’s and stood there not more than half an hour before one of the bosses noticed this form towering above the rest, and signaled to him” (39).
  • “In the beginning he had been fresh and strong, and had gotten a job the first day; but now he was second-hand, a damaged article, so to speak, and they did not want him” (149).
  • “No arguments could stop him, he was going back to work…Every now and then the pain would force Jurgis to stop work, but he stuck it out nearly an hour before closing. Then he was forced to acknowledge that he could not go on without fainting; it almost broke his heart to do it, and he stood leaning against a pillar and weeping like a child (143).
  • “It was nobody’s fault—that was the way of it; and thousands of men and women were turned out in the dead of winter, to live upon their savings if they had any, and otherwise to die” (242).
  • Upon wasting away at home: “About the end of March he had got hold of Ona’s bank-book, and learned that there was only three dollars left to them in the world” (144-145).
  • “Jurgis had gotten used to lying about the house” (147).
  • “This time, however, Jurgis did not have the same fine confidence, nor the same reason for it. He was no longer the finest-looking man in the throng, and the bosses no longer made for him; he was thin and haggard…”(148)
  • “Why they had put their very souls into their payments on that house, they had paid for it with their sweat and tears—yes, more, with their very life-blood…Ona, too, had given her health and strength to pay for it—she was wrecked and ruined because of it; and so was he…” (213)



VT Labor

  • “The longer these guys are here, the worse their health gets”
  • Hypertension, diabetes, obesity
  • We see a healthy population arrive and then decline after years here
  • Sick=vulnerable, having access to health care is crucial
  • Work through injuries
    • Hard work is admired, and that’s why the community cares so much about their health and well being
  • Great system of health care (Open Door Clinic)
    • Note that this is “not typical”
    • Reasons for more success


Analysis: Certainly the abhorrent working conditions exposed in The Jungle are not unique to the Chicago Meatpacking industry of the early 20th Century. In fact, they even persist today. While both workers in The Jungle and workers on Vermont Dairy farms faced significant health problems as a result of their working conditions, Vermont’s migrant labor force received help in dealing with their health issues. Because of this, they were more likely to achieve their version of the American Dream.




(The general direction I think my conclusion will take)


Speculation as to why access to good health care is so elusive for immigrants:

  • Undocumented immigrants are scared of asking for helpà don’t want to be deported
  • In many cases, such as Jurgis’ in The Jungle, access to proper health care just costs too much money.
    • Would rather not spend money if they have it for proper health care
  • Many of the immigrants chasing the America Dream enter the U.S. in extreme poverty (hence the reason for their coming to the U.S. in the first place) and can’t afford health insurance.
    • “For a lot of them, if you go to the hospital and you can’t pay up front, you don’t get treated at all, you get sent away”


Throughout history, immigrants have come to the United States in search of a better life with hopes of achieving the elusive American Dream. The system of immigrant labor too often sets them up to fail, forcing immigrants to take jobs that no one else is willing to do and subjecting them to heinous working conditions. Deterioration of health is almost a guarantee. Without systems in place to support the well being of immigrant workers, such as Vermont’s Open Door Clinic, achieving the American Dream is only but a dream.





Structure of the Essay

  1. Intro
  2. The Jungle: Breakdown of “I will work harder”
  3. The Jungle: Breakdown of home ownership
  4. VT Labor: Similar health issues to those of The Jungle
  5. VT Labor: Better health care == more success in American Dream
  6. Conclusion


Luke —  This is a great project, linking a contemporary video about Vermont migrant workers to a classic text about the Chicago stockyards, published in 1906.   To make the comparison tighter, you might want to concentrate on just the “work” aspect of the American Dream, and discuss the ways injuries, disabilities, and generally deteriorating health undermine the aspiration behind the mantra, “I will work harder.”   The video illustrates the same problem, but also shows that things have now improved, since access to a clinic is within the reach of the Vermont migrant workers, in a way that it was not for Jurgis and his family.  That way, you can pinpoint the progress that we have made since the early twentieth century.

Hey Luke!  This looks awesome.  I really liked getting a glimpse into the project, which sounded so interesting on FOOT!  Your essay structure looks awesome, and the parts of the novel you’re focusing on apply well.  It may be interesting to look at the way other characters are affected in addition to Jurgis.  Your thesis applies to almost everyone in the family, but you focus mostly on Jurgis.  The way that lack of health care affects the women and children of the family could maybe add another layer to your essay.


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