The dramatic and deeply moving story documents the brutal conditions in the Chicago
stockyards at the turn of the century and brings into sharp moral focus the appalling
odds against which immigrants and other working people struggled for their share in the American dream.
..There was always the boss prowling about, and if there was a second's delay he would fall to
cursing. Lithuanians and Slovaks and such, who could not understand what was said to them,
the bosses were wont to kick about the place like so many dogs. Therefore these trucks went for the
most part on the run; and the predecessor of Jonas had been jammed against the wall by one
and crushed in a horrible and nameless manner.
All of these were sinister incidents; but they were trifles compared to what Jurgis saw with his own
eyes before long. One curious thing he had noticed, the very first day, in his profession of
shoveller of guts; which was the sharp trick of the floor bosses whenever there chanced to come
a 'slunk' calf. Any man who knows anything about butchering knows that the flesh of a cow
that is about to calve is not fit for food. A good many of these came every day to the packing houses,
and, of course, if they had chosen, it would have been an easy matter for the packers to keep them
till they were fit for food. But for the saving of time and the fodder, it was the law that cows
of that sort came along with the others, and whoever noticed it would tell the boss, and the boss
would start up a conversation with the government inspector, and the two would stroll away.
So in a trice the carcass of the cow would be cleaned out, and the entrails would have vanished.
It was Jurgi's task to slide them into the trap, calves and all, and on the floor below
they took out these 'slunk' calves, and butchered them for meat, and used even the skin of them.
One day a man slipped and hurt his leg; and that afternoon, when the last cattle had been
disposed of, and the men were leaving, Jurgis was ordered to remain and do some special work
which this injured man had usually done. It was late, almost dark, and the government
inspectors had all gone, and there were only a dozen or two men on the floor. That day they had killed
about four thousand cattle, and these cattle had come in freight trains from far States, and
some of them had got hurt. There were some with broken legs and some with gored sides; there
were some that had died, from what cause no one could say; and they were all to be disposed of,
here in darkness and silence. 'Downers' the men called them; and the packing house had a special
elevator upon which they were raised to the killing beds, where the gang proceeded to handle them
with an air of businesslike nonchalance which said plainer than any words that it was a matter of
everyday routine. It took a couple of hours to get them out of the way, and in the end Jurgis
saw them go into the chilling rooms with the rest of the meat, being carefully scattered here and
there so that they could not be identified. When he came home that night he was in a very sombre
mood, having begun to see at last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith
c. 555 words
Source: Upton Sinclair: The Jungle, Penguin Classics, pp. 77-78
1. From what the text at hand says, describe the grievances Jurgis encountered in the packing house.
2. What were working conditions like in America at the turn of the century and compare them with today's?
3. Immigrants came in waves to America. Which were the major ones and elaborate on the reasons why
people left their countries.
Compare above text to the following one which is an excerpt from Eric Schlosser's
Fast Food Nation, written in 2002:
You can smell Greeley, Colorado, long before you can see it. The smell is hard to forget but not easy to
describe, a combination of live animals, manure, and dead animals being rendered into dog food. The smell is
worst during the summer months, blanketing Greeley day and night like an invisible fog. ....
Greeley is a modern-day factory town where cattle are the main units of production, where workers and machines
turn large steer into small, vacuum-sealed packages of meat. The billion of fast food hamburgers
that Americans now eat every year come from places like Greeley. ... The ConAgra Beef Company runs the nation's
biggest meatpacking complex just a few miles north of downtown Greeley. Weld County, which
includes Greeley, earns more money every year from livestock products than any other county in the United States.
ConAgra is the largest private employer in Weld County, running a beef slaughterhouse and a sheep slaughterhouse,
as well as rendering and processing facilities.
To supply the beef slaughterhouse, ConAgra operates a pair od enormous feedlots. Each of them can
hold up to one hundred thousand head of cattle. At times the animals are crowded so closely together
it looks like a sea of cattle, a mooing, moving mass of brown and white fur that goes on
for acres. These cattle don't eat blue grama and buffalo grass off the prairie. During the three months
before slaughter, they eat grain dumped into long concrete troughs that resemble highway
dividers. The grain fattens the cattle quickly, aided by the anabolic steroids implanted
in their ear. A typical steer will consume more than three thousand pounds of grain during its
stay at a feedlot, just to gain four hundred pounds in weight. The process involves a fair amount of waste.
Each steer deposits about fifty pounds of urine and manure every day. Unlike human waste, the manure
is not sent to a treatment plant. It is dumped into pits, huge pools of excrement that the industry
calls 'lagoons'. The amount of waste left by the cattle that pass through Weld County is staggering.
The two Montford feedlots outside Greeley produce more excrement than the cities of denver, Boston,
Atlanta and St. Louis - combined.
c. 370 words
Source: Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, Penguin Books 2002