The Jungle: Chapters 16-18

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 12079

What is the purpose of imprisoning criminals? Is it to get them off the streets, or punish them, or make them better members of society? This is your chance to propose your ideas for prison reform!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Prisons are not the most hospitable institutions. From what you have already read, what do you think the conditions of prisons were like in the early 1900s?

As you read at the end of the previous lesson, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, Jurgis was arrested for attacking Ona's foreman, Connor.

In this lesson, you will read about the consequences of Jurgis's action. First, however, Jurgis must be taken to jail to be processed since he was arrested in the middle of his assault on Connor. Prisons in the early 1900s were rather different from today's modern facilities. They were often dank and drafty places that could be overpopulated at times. This situation could be daunting for any person, much more for an immigrant who was unfamiliar with the American justice system.

To learn more about the conditions in the jails of the early 1900s, read the following article. Focus on the two sections titled, "Growth of the Modern Penitentiary: The 19th Century," and "The Prison Develops More: The 20th Century." As you read these two sections, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • How was the silent or congregate system of incarceration different from the separate or solitary system?
  • Why did the silent or congregate system become the more popular method of imprisonment in the nineteenth century?
  • What was the goal of the Prison Reform Act of 1898?
  • What was the purpose of the Prevention of Crime Act of 1908?
  • According to some theories, how are incarceration rates tied to economic conditions in the U.S.?

Read the two sections from Breathing Through Bars: A Brief History on the Prison System in America, by Anna Karpinski from Soapboxie, and answer the questions. Then, discuss your responses with your parent or teacher. Once you've finished reviewing your answers, read Chapters 16–18 in the novel. As you read, take notes on the American justice system and life in prison for Jurgis. Write down at least eight examples or specific quotations from the text that describe prison life and Jurgis's trial. You can read from your own print copy or you can read an online version of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair from Project Gutenberg.

After reading and note-taking, move on to the Got It? section to reflect on Sinclair's version of the prison system.

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