Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
Christmas in Prison (From The Jungle)
By Upton Sinclair
(A novel portraying the lives of the workers in the Chicago stockyards; published in 1906)
IN the distance there was a church-tower bell that tolled the hours one by one. When it came to midnight Jurgis was lying upon the floor with his head in his arms, listening. Instead of falling silent at the end, the bell broke out into a sudden clangor. Jurgis raised his head; what could that meana fire? God! suppose there were to be a fire in this jail! But then he made out a melody in the ringing; there were chimes. And they seemed to waken the cityall around, far and near, there were bells, ringing wild music; for fully a minute Jurgis lay lost in wonder, before, all at once, the meaning of it broke over himthat this was Christmas Eve!
Christmas Evehe had forgotten it entirely! There was a breaking of flood-gates, a whirl of new memories and new griefs rushing into his mind. In far Lithuania they had celebrated Christmas; and it came to him as if it had been yesterdayhimself a little child, with his lost brother and his dead father in the cabin in the deep black forest, where the snow fell all day and all night and buried them from the world. It was too far off for Santa Claus in Lithuania, but it was not too far for peace and good-will to men, for the wonder-bearing vision of the Christ-child.
But no, their bells were not ringing for himtheir Christmas was not meant for him, they were simply not counting him at all. He was of no consequence, like a bit of trash, the carcass of some animal. It was horrible, horrible! His wife might be dying, his baby might be starving, his whole family might be perishing in the coldand all the while they were ringing their Christmas chimes! And the bitter mockery of itall this was punishment for him! They put him in a place where the snow could not beat in, where the cold could not eat through his bones; they brought him food and drinkwhy, in the name of heaven, if they must punish him, did they not put his family in jail and leave him outsidewhy could they find no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six helpless children to starve and freeze?
That was their law, that was their justice! Jurgis stood upright, trembling with passion, his hands clenched and his arms upraised, his whole soul ablaze with hatred and defiance. Ten thousand curses upon them and their law! Their justiceit was a lie, a sham and a loathsome mockery. There was no justice, there was no right, anywhere in itit was only force, it was tyranny, the will and the power, reckless and unrestrained!
These midnight hours were fateful ones to Jurgis; in them was the beginning of his rebellion, of his outlawry and his unbelief. He had no wit to trace back the social crime to its far sourceshe could not say it was the thing men have called the system that was crushing him to the earth; that it was the packers, his masters, who had bought up the law of the land, and had dealt out their brutal will to him from the seat of justice. He only knew that he was wronged, and that the world had wronged him; that the law, that society, with all its powers, had declared itself his foe. And every hour his soul grew blacker, every hour he dreamed new dreams of vengeance, of defiance, of raging, frenzied hate.