The Jungle opens with the marriage of Jurgis Rudkus and Ona Lukoszaite, a young couple who have just immigrated from Lithuania. The couple has come to Chicago, along with their Teta Elzbieta, Maria, Jonas, and other family members, in search of a better life. Little do they know the trouble that surrounds Packingtown. Their trouble starts early. Right after their wedding reception, they discover they are more than one hundred dollars in debt to the saloon keeper.
Young and strong Jurgis easily finds work, as does Ona’s cousin Maria. After much debate, the family decides to buy a house, instead of staying in a filthy, crowded boarding house. However, like everything else in Packingtown, their “new” house is nothing more than a scam. The family is forced to sign a contract with hidden fees and they are soon in over their heads. To make ends meet, Ona and one of the children are forced to find work. Packingtown is full of immigrants from all over, all looking for work. Those who are able to find a job are subject unsafe and inhumane conditions, scandal, crime, and corruption. They are underpaid and overworked. All of the family witnesses the filth surrounding the meat packing industry. Disease, injured, pregnant, and even dead cattle are slaughtered and processed. Meat is a concoction of chemicals, various animal parts, rat carcasses, and dirt scooped off the floor. Workers in Packingtown risk their life by just going to work and Jurgis’s elderly father quickly loses the fight.
With the cold of winter, the danger in the unheated slaughterhouses increases. Simply getting to work becomes challenging in the heavy snow. Maria’s factory closes leaving her out of a job. She is able to find another but soon loses it when she demands pay that she is shorted. Jonas, who is unable to cope, abandons the family and is never heard from again. Ona’s pregnancy makes her job more difficult. When she goes into labor, Jurgis insist on having a nurse...