- “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair is a compelling novel that explores the hardships and injustices faced by immigrant workers in the American meatpacking industry during the early 20th century.
- Read “The Jungle” to gain a deep understanding of the harsh realities faced by immigrant workers and the profound impact of literature on social reform. This eye-opening novel continues to be a source of inspiration for advocating workers’ rights and social justice today.
A Gut-Wrenching Tale of Degradation and Disillusionment
Table of Contents
Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle shocked respectable Americans in 1906. Repeated economic crises punctuated rapidly growing industrial output, casting millions of people out of work and onto the streets. Conventional thinking was that these events were transient phenomena and that hard work and clean living would deliver individual prosperity in time. Many Americans saw slums, vice and squalor as signs of individual shortcomings – nothing more than new immigrants bringing bad habits and poor discipline with them from the old countries.
The Jungle turned that way of thinking on its head. The economic system Sinclair portrayed took decent hard-working immigrants, stripped them of their savings, health, dignity and frequently their lives, in pursuit of shoddy, unsafe consumer products. It rewarded crime and political corruption, while crushing anyone foolish enough to demand fair treatment and a decent life. Unfortunately, Sinclair’s exposé of meat processing conditions in Chicago was the only part of his novel to truly upset respectable Americans’ stomachs.
Food safety standards raised quickly, but improving working conditions would take decades longer. More than one hundred years on, the same questions of food quality and exploitation of the many for the benefit of a few once again resonate in debates on inequality, processed foods and pesticide residues.
- The activist novel The Jungle made Upton Sinclair world famous overnight.
- Lithuanian Jurgis Rudkus emigrates to the United States with his family. His American dream of a hard-working, prosperous life turns into a nightmare when he finds work in a Chicago slaughterhouse. After injustice and heavy blows of fate grind him down, he sees the light in socialism and vows to fight for a better world.
- Sinclair worked in the stockyards of Chicago for seven weeks to investigate the novel.
- What he found made the world gag: Rats and their droppings in canned meat, greasy renderings skimmed off and sold as “pure” lard.
- President Theodore Roosevelt famously labeled him and other investigative journalists as “muckrakers.”
- Nevertheless, the president assigned a commission to investigate. Soon after, the United States Congress passed the first food safety laws.
- Sinclair was shocked when he realized that people cared more about tubercular meat than the plight of workers.
- The general lack of regulation at the turn of the century in the United States led to the emergence of syndicates, trusts and a particular breed of businessmen, later referred to as the “Robber Barons.”
- Today the novel is mainly praised for its documentary power and the social effect it had.
- “Over them, relentless and savage, there cracked the lash of want; the morning after the wedding it sought them as they slept, and drove them out before daybreak to work.”
From Lithuania to America
In the stockyards of Chicago, a lavish celebration according to old Lithuanian custom is taking place. Jurgis Rudkus can finally marry his beloved Ona Lukoszaite. Back in Lithuania, Jurgis used to live on a farm with his father Antanas. Then he met Ona. He asked the father for her hand, but was rejected, for Ona’s family was wealthy, and he himself didn’t have a lot to offer. When months later he tried again, he had more luck: Ona’s father had died, and the family had been forced to give up their farm. This is why they allowed Ona to marry, yet the girl didn’t want to leave her family, and so her brother Jonas suggested they emigrate to America together. With Ona’s stepmother Teta Elzbieta and her six children Stanislovas, Kotrina, Vilimas, Nikalojus, Juozapas, Kristoforas as well as Ona’s cousin Marija coming along, they set out as a party of twelve.
The family face poor treatment and lose money on their passage to New York. Finally, they make it to the Chicago stockyards, where a friend of Jonas allegedly got rich. That friend turns out to be much less wealthy than they originally thought, but he organizes temporary housing in a dingy flat and shows them around. The first thing that strikes the new arrivals is the overpowering odor of the place: pungent, raw and sensual, along with a distant, harrowing sound – the noise of tens of thousands of cattle and swine. Later, during a tour of the premises, they marvel at the speed and efficiency of the business.
“They don’t waste anything here,’ said the guide, and then he laughed and added a witticism, which he was pleased that his unsophisticated friends should take to be his own: ‘They use everything about the hog except the squeal.”
The party enters a room in which stands a massive iron wheel dotted with rings. As the wheel revolves, men use chains to hook live pigs up to the rings, then slit the shrieking animals’ throats as they are hoisted up into the air. The family think to themselves how impossible it seems that man could have devised this perfectly oiled machine. Jurgis, who stands out among men due to his height and sheer physical strength, is determined to make it in this wondrous new world. And sure enough, a day after his arrival he lands a job with the meat-packing company, Brown.
Working and Living in Packingtown
Jurgis’s work in the “killing beds” is to sweep away the entrails of the steer, a monotonous, stinking affair, but he’s content and happy to have what initially seems like a high wage to him. Marija finds a job painting cans in an auxiliary factory, and Jonas, too, has the prospect of work. Only Antanas fails to find employment due to his advanced age. When they see a gorgeous looking house advertised on a placard, they get the idea of buying a house outright, rather than to pay rent for long time. Yet when they end up looking at the house in the Packingtown neighborhood, they are terribly disappointed: It looks quite different than in the photos. After much back and forth, long nights of agonizing and a costly consultation with a lawyer over the puzzling terms of the deal, they sign the contract and use all of their savings as the down payment.
Jurgis’s work is backbreaking, but he refuses to join a union, believing he can fend for himself. It soon becomes apparent that the packers’ system is a lot more rotten than it seemed at first glance: Corruption is rampant. Not only does the relentless toil maim and sicken workers, but the unhygienic conditions of the food are horrifying. Tubercular, diseased and rotten meat goes into cans – rat droppings, too. The packers skim off the thick layers of greasy renderings that land in the waterways and sewers of the district and sell them as lard. Filthy workplaces are never cleaned properly, let alone disinfected.
“It was porkmaking by machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests – and so perfectly within their rights!”
Antanas finds a job on the condition that he hands over a third of his wages to a petty grifter in charge of something or other in the plant. Ona and Stanislovas have no choice but to work, too, as it turns out the house they bought was a swindle, after all: Until they pay the last of the balance, at a high interest rate, the cheaply-built structure isn’t theirs. They risk losing the property by failing to make just one payment. They learn that the same trick drove out three other families before them.
Love, Labor and Suffering
After a laborious summer, Jurgis and Ona can finally get married. But they have to take on new debts to pay for the wedding party, since their guests simply ignore the traditional customs of contributing to the expense. Winter is coming, and the flimsy house teems with vermin. Moreover, they have great trouble heating the place, which leads to much illness. Old Antanas, in particular, is going from bad to worse, until he literally wastes away and dies. The violinist at the wedding and Marija fall in love, and they prepare to marry and set up house together in the spring. But she loses her job in the canning factory and remains without an income for weeks.
A representative of the union approaches Jurgis again, and this time he’s ready to join. He hopes that, together, they might relieve his family’s and all the workers’ plights. Jurgis goes to meetings, learns English, enrolls in a free evening school and becomes an American citizen. The closer he looks, the more revolting he finds the systematic graft, political corruption, open vote buying, and blatant disregard of food and labor safety rules.
“Over them, relentless and savage, there cracked the lash of want; the morning after the wedding it sought them as they slept, and drove them out before daybreak to work.”
Marija remains unemployed until her canning factory reopens and she gets her old job back. But soon afterward, Marija loses her job for good when she tries to stand up to her supervisor about unfair treatment and claim her rights. She then finds a place as a beef-trimmer of diseased cattle, ordinarily a man’s occupation, but given that she has the same strength for a little more than half the pay, the boss fires her predecessor and hires her.
Ona also faces poor treatment from her supervisor and she finds out the reason why: The unmarried woman is a former mistress of one of the superintendents, and she earns money by doubling as a madame. Some of Ona’s colleagues also work as prostitutes. They are jealous and mean to Ona because she’s married and a “decent” girl. She’s also expecting a child. A week after little Antanas is born, she is forced to go back to work, because they can’t manage the rising costs for the house without her contribution. As a result, she develops womb troubles which become chronic.
Adding Insult to Injury
As winter approaches, the sorrows multiply. Jurgis injures his ankle and is forced to stay home for nearly three months, his only consolation being the fact that he has time to marvel at beautiful, little Antanas. In a snowstorm, Stanislovas freezes his fingers, losing the use of three of them past the first joints as a result. From now on, whenever there is even a dusting of snow, Jurgis has to beat Stanislovas out of the house and off to work. When spring arrives, Jonas disappears – no one knows whether he fell into a processing vat and went into a can of meat or took off in search of happiness.
Since he was away for so long, Jurgis has lost his job for good. Now Vilimas and Nikalojus must leave school to work as newspaper boys in the city. Then Kristoforas, Elzbieta’s youngest and disabled child, dies for unknown reasons – possibly from eating tubercular pork sausage that’s unfit for export. Because Jurgis has all but lost his vigorous, healthy looks, none of the bosses want to hire him. He has no other option but to toil in a fertilizer plant – the lowest of the low, a literal hell on earth. The work gives him a constant splitting headache and makes him stink – so much so that the streetcar empties as soon as he enters it. Yet despite it all, he sticks to it and they have at least enough money to eat and make the house payments. To keep the boys from getting roughed up in the streets of Chicago and to send them back to school, Elzbieta finds work in a sausage factory. Her daughter Kotrina must now keep house and look after the smallest children.
The unrelenting plight makes Jurgis take to drink. Antanas is often sick, but they don’t have enough money to call a doctor. Ona, who is pregnant again, also falls ill and suffers from inexplicable mood swings, anxiety attacks and neuralgia. One night she doesn’t come home in the evening and claims the next day that she spent the night at her girlfriend’s. When it happens again, Jurgis goes to the woman’s house hoping to find Ona there. However, he learns that the whole story is news to Ona’s friend. When he confronts his wife, she entirely goes to pieces, admitting that her boss – Phil Connor – threatened to ruin the entire family unless she prostituted herself for him. So she did, hoping to save them, but now she’s convinced that all is lost. Jurgis, thrown into a blind rage, brutally attacks and beats the man until the police arrest him.
Prison and Death
The next day is Christmas Eve, and Jurgis must stay in jail for a week. There he befriends the former engineer, turned expert safe-breaking criminal, Jack Duane. On New Year’s Eve, after a brief and unfair trial, Jurgis receives his punishment: 30 days in jail plus court costs. Stanislovas visits him in jail and tells him about their plight back home. Marija has gravely injured herself and risks losing one hand, Elzbieta and Ona have lost their jobs and Ona refuses to eat, lying in bed crying all day. The kids are selling newspapers again, and still they’re on the brink of starvation. Stanislovas asks Jurgis for help, but he is powerless. Only after he has done his time and paid off the debt by working in the quarry can he leave. When he finally gets home he learns with horror that it’s been repaired and repainted and sold as new to an Irish family – just as it happened to them a few years back. His family has lost everything they put into it, including all their hopes and health, and have gone back to the boarding house. He gets there just in time to find Ona in labor with the new baby – two months before the due date. All the residents of the boarding house put money together, so Jurgis can fetch help. He finds a midwife, but it’s too late: The baby and Ona die. When Kotrina comes back with the money she and the other kids have earned selling papers, Jurgis grabs it from her, goes to the nearest saloon and gets blind drunk.
Elzbieta pleads with Jurgis to take pity on the children and pull himself together. So he goes job hunting again, but since he’s been blacklisted in Packingtown on account of his sentence he has to go into downtown Chicago. An old union acquaintance lands him a job in an agricultural machinery plant, where he makes good money. He is starting to feel some hope again, when, after just a few days, his department closes down because of a drop in demand for harvesting machines, he’s unemployed again. The winter is getting ever more merciless, and Elzbieta’s youngest, Juozapas, starts to look for something edible on the trash dump. There, a wealthy lady takes pity on him and gifts him and his family a basket full of food. She also gets Jurgis a job at the steelworks in South Chicago. Marija can go back to work, too, and things are easing up a bit. But then little Antanas dies from drowning in a street flood caused by the spring rains.
On the Road
Jurgis doesn’t cry, or drink. He leaves Chicago without a word and goes to the countryside, sleeping in stables and buying food from farmers. He spends time with other tramps and learns the basics of survival from them, working only as much and as often as absolutely necessary. He seeks the company of prostitutes and drinks profusely. In the fall, he returns to Chicago but doesn’t check up on his family. He claims never to have worked in Chicago and gets a job digging tunnels for a telephone works. But then he gets injured and must spend two weeks in a hospital, whereupon he loses his job and from then on is reduced to begging and bumming for a place to spend the night out of the arctic cold.
One night, he meets Freddie Jones, the son of one of the big packers. In a drunken stupor he gives Jurgis a hundred-dollar bill and takes him to his parents’ castle-like home, where he has his servants serve the finest food and drink to Jurgis. When Jones finally falls asleep, the hostile butler, after trying to search his body, literally kicks Jurgis out onto the streets, where he lands with his bottom in the snow. When he attempts to change the bill in a saloon, the bartender pockets it, hands him 95 cents change for a beer and keeps the remaining 99 dollars. Jurgis, in a blind frenzy and bottomless rage, starts a fight and is arrested yet again.
In prison, Jurgis meets Jack Duane again. After doing his time, he joins him in his criminal pursuits such as mugging people in the streets or gambling. He learns about the bottomless pit of graft, corruption and votes for sale in Chicago. Everyone is in on it one way or another: Businessmen, merchants, politicians, policemen, saloon keepers, madames and gambling houses constantly pay and receive their due. And Jurgis is now part of that game, drinking less and making a good deal more money than he ever did as a workingman. After a time, he tires of his shifty existence and finds a job working for Bush Harper, a fixer for the influential Democratic boss of the stockyards, Mike Scully. Jurgis goes to the stockyards. His mission is to assume a position with the union and campaign for a bogus Republican candidate for alderman. Scully will inherit this politician’s post a year later, keeping the socialists out of the picture. Jurgis works hard and delivers results. Afterward, he remains in Packingtown, living the good life. In June, a strike breaks out in the yards, and Jurgis asks Scully for a new job. But Scully has no use for him at this point and suggests that he work as a strikebreaker.
“There were a million and a half men in the country looking for work, a hundred thousand of them right in Chicago; and were the packers to let the union stewards march into their places and bind them to a contract that would lose them several thousand dollars a day for a year? Not much!”
Thus, Jurgis makes even more money than before and rises to the position of foreman on the killing beds. The fronts are hardening, and there continue to be new strikes. The companies hoard ever more workers from all over the country as strikebreakers, particularly African Americans from the deep South. They lodge on cots in the factories and the businesses freely supply them with women and whiskey – engaging in a level of debauchery America has never seen before. Soon chaos breaks out.
A New Start
Jurgis is drinking again. On one of his benders he happens upon Phil Connor. He attacks and bites flesh out of his old foe. Just like the first time, he is arrested again. Because Connor is Scully’s friend, Jurgis has no other choice but to use his entire savings of 300 dollars for bail and lay low for a while at the far end of Chicago. Again, he is reduced to begging and starving along with the growing army of homeless and unemployed wretches that roam the streets.
One day Jurgis meets an old acquaintance, Alena Jasaityte, who tells him where to find Marija. He goes to the address and is caught up in a police raid. Half-dressed men and women scramble to escape the house, but are ultimately trapped. As the police process the prostitutes and customers, Jurgis spots Marija in a red kimono and stockings. Marija is allowed to get dressed before the police take everyone to court. Jurgis accompanies her to her room, where she tells him everything that has happened during the year he was gone. Stanislovas is dead – rats ate him after he’d got drunk on beer he was supposed to deliver to his employers. And her fiancé left after he lost a finger to blood poisoning, making it impossible for him to play the violin.
Marija has picked up a morphine and drinking habit – something that happens to every new girl in the business, since this is how the madames keep them in debt and under control. She makes good money, but can’t save anything after she sends part of her earnings to pay for the children’s school fees and then pays the high debts she has with the madame. She sends Jurgis to Elzbieta’s, assuring him that he’ll be welcome there.
“She fell silent for a moment, staring ahead of her gloomily. ‘It’s morphine,’ she said, at last. ‘I seem to take more of it every day… . It’s the way of it; I don’t know why. If it isn’t that, it’s drink. If the girls didn’t booze they couldn’t stand it any time at all. And the madame always gives them dope when they first come, and they learn to like it; or else they take it for headaches and such things, and get the habit that way. I’ve got it, I know; I’ve tried to quit, but I never will while I’m here.’” (Marija)
While wandering in the streets, looking for a job, Jurgis happens upon a socialist meeting. The speaker grabs his attention with his fiery call for justice. He seeks him out afterwards and gets to know a comrade who speaks Lithuanian. This Ostrinski takes Jurgis to his home and explains socialism to him. Finally, Jurgis finds work in a hotel whose owner, Tommy Hinds, also happens to be a socialist.
Jurgis wants to renounce the booze and get Marija out of the brothel. But she refuses, claiming that as an addict and fallen woman she’s a lost cause. Jurgis begins to share his story with others and to advocate socialism. He reads everything he can get his hands on and tries to educate himself as much as possible.
“We were too ignorant – that was the trouble. We didn’t stand any chance. If I’d known what I know now we’d have won out.” (Marija)
One day a Chicago millionaire with socialist sympathies named Fisher invites Jurgis to a panel. There a journalist and a professor discuss the merits of socialism over capitalism. When election day finally comes around, everybody is thrilled with the socialists’ success in the whole country. In Chicago alone they have gotten 50,000 votes: From now on they’ll be unstoppable.
About the Text
Structure and Style
The Jungle is an investigative novel in 31 chapters, told by an omniscient narrator. Reading it makes you feel like an unfortunate cow yourself, starting out on a hopeful journey to supposedly greener pastures, arriving with ominous foreboding in the stockyards of Packingtown hell, and then slowly being passed through the relentless grind of profit maximization. Upton Sinclair is no subtle thinker or elusive storyteller, and the art of character development escapes him. But he is good at observing, reporting and turning his experiences into vivid prose. Through frequent use of direct speech in a number of immigrant accents and some untranslated exclamations in Lithuanian, Sinclair traces the sorry fate of Jurgis and his family in parallel to the story of the cattle as the factories process, package and serve up every last part of their beings for the rest of American society. Even when taken with the benefit of hindsight and a grain of salt, one cannot help but feel chopped up and ground down by the novel. Yet Sinclair somewhat botches it toward the end – a failing he would later admit to – when he tries to squeeze endless lectures on the ills of capitalism and merits of socialism into an otherwise straightforward, credible and lucid narrative.
- The Jungle is the story of an optimistic, yet ultimately naive, immigrant family who watch as their American Dream of a hard-working, decent life dissolves into a nightmare of destitution, destruction and death. Sinclair isn’t coy about his meat-packing-inspired symbolism: In the capitalist system, wage slaves are worth no more than hogs. Both are exploited down to their last bristle – until everything has been monetized.
- Jurgis’ story of awakening is one of loss, redemption and newfound faith: After realizing that all the cards are stacked against him, having lost his family and faith in the system, he finally discovers socialism as the salvation of humankind and resolves to improve himself through education and sobriety.
- Just like no cattle leave the stockyards alive, no human being can survive the system with his or her dignity intact: In an environment ruled by Social Darwinism, the strongest and fittest prey on the weak and faint of heart, and in such a world you have to either break bad or perish.
- Technology enslaves workers. By squeezing more productivity out of each person and attaining an ever-higher margin for every sold can of rotten meat, the gains of industrialization only benefit the wealthy and those who manage to skim something off the top. Sinclair was convinced that the abuse of power and knowledge wasted the great potential of technological innovation: to shorten, improve and enrich people’s working hours, so they have time for more worthy and creative endeavors.
Tainted Politics and Poisonous Tins
Thanks to the Second Industrial Revolution, the railroads and the massive economic expansion in the United States towards the end of the 19th century, big business was booming. The general lack of regulation had led to the emergence of syndicates, trusts and a particular breed of businessmen, later referred to as the “Robber Barons”: These extremely wealthy individuals primarily made their fortune through greed and graft, predatory practices, corrupting the political system to stifle competition and establishing monopolies. Their preferred version of laissez-faire wasn’t to keep the government out of business. Instead they connived with officials to protect their own business against others. Thus in the early part of the 20th century, wages were falling, and life was becoming increasingly desperate for the urban poor and tenant farmers. The gap between rich and poor widened. One of the outcomes of this was the founding of The Socialist Party of America in 1901: In the 20 years that followed, 33 socialist mayors were elected, 1,000 socialist candidates won political offices, and in 1912, the socialist Eugene V. Debs ran for president, receiving 6% of the total vote.
While workers were at the mercy of ruthless employers, they were also entirely unprotected as consumers. New technologies had made mass food production a near limitless profit center, but the results were never pretty and sometimes even deadly: Packaged food could contain lead, arsenic, straw and dirt; milk was watered down, mixed with chalk or plaster powder for color, used pureed calf brains for the “cream” on top and formaldehyde for conservation. The most abominable practices were rife in the nation’s slaughterhouses, where rotting meat was mixed with fresh, E. coli and salmonella thrived, rats and rat poison were common sausage ingredients and, as legend goes, an unlucky worker could easily fall into a toxic rendering vat one day and be served to his grieving family as tinned ground beef the next.
The people’s plight outraged a growing number of writers and journalists. As founders of investigative journalism, they began to uncover widespread corruption in politics and business. They dug through the stinking underbelly of capitalism, of working conditions and precarious living conditions, inspiring President Theodore Roosevelt to coin the famous term “muckrakers”: While he had initially expressed some sympathy for their zeal, he later thought that they went too far and accused them of ignoring the many great things beyond the muck.
The convinced socialist Upton Sinclair was one of the most notorious early muckrakers. His first novels had flopped, and so the impoverished and frustrated writer gladly accepted an advance from the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason to investigate the living and working conditions in the Chicago meat-packing industry and write a serial novel about it. In late 1904, he left his wife and young son in their miserable New Jersey farmhouse and, upon arriving in the stockyards with hungry eyes and in shabby clothes, didn’t even have to go undercover to fit in. For seven weeks Sinclair worked among picklers, wool-pluckers and beef-trimmers, closely observing the unspeakable lack of hygienic standards and horrific work conditions. He even happened upon the wedding of an immigrant family, which he used as an inspiration for the opening of his book.
In 1905, it was published as a serialized version in Appeal to Reason, garnering a great deal of attention and helping to significantly increase the paper’s circulation. Yet several publishers turned the novel down. A Macmillan consultant strongly advised against publication of the book, “which is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels that what is at the bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire to help the poor as hatred of the rich.” Eventually, after Sinclair announced his intention to self-publish the book and received many pre-orders, Doubleday decided to take the risk. In February 1906, following extensive fact checking, the novel appeared in book form.
Reviews and Legacy
The Jungle became an instant bestseller and, within months, was translated into 17 languages. Its admirers include George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Eugene Debs and, perhaps most surprisingly, future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who found that it “pierces the thickest skull and most leathery heart.” Theodore Roosevelt is said to have thrown his breakfast sausage out the window after reading the book. Privately he despised Sinclair’s socialism, and while he thought that three-fourths of the claims in the book were “absolute falsehoods,” he assigned a commission to investigate some of the meat-packing facilities. The owners had them scrubbed prior to the inspection, yet the commission members were disgusted regardless and confirmed most of Sinclair’s observations. That same year, Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, laying the foundation for what later became the Food and Drug Administration.
Today many hail The Jungle as one of the novels which prompted the greatest social change in US history. Society’s reaction to the book, however, deeply disappointed Sinclair: “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” he complained. Apparently, most Americans were more concerned about what went into their sausages than about the plight of those who did the stuffing in the first place.
About the Author
Upton Sinclair was born on September 20, 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, a liquor salesman, was an alcoholic, his mother a strict Episcopalian who preached abstinence. He was an only child growing up in poverty, but his maternal grandparents were very wealthy. He often stayed with them, learning first-hand what it meant to be rich and poor. While despising his father’s addiction, he equally abhorred his mother’s puritanism. At age 14, he entered the City College of New York and later Columbia University, funding his education by writing dime novels and articles for pulp magazines. At age 22 he married Meta Fuller, who was three years his junior. She gave birth to their son David in 1901. Yet his married life was a mess, and the couple separated years later. After several unsuccessful attempts of writing serious literature, Sinclair spent several weeks working in Chicago slaughterhouses in 1904, gathering material for the muckraking novel The Jungle (1906). This proved to be his literary breakthrough, and he used half of the profits to found the socialist-utopian creative community – yet non-Jewish, white-only – Helicon Home Colony in New Jersey. The idea was to engage in communal cooking and cooperative care for children, but after just six months, the place burnt down to the ground. With his second wife Mary Craig Kimbrough he moved to California in the 1920s, where he ran unsuccessfully for several political offices on the socialist ticket. In 1927, he published the novel Oil! in the midst of the Great Depression. In 1934, Sinclair ran as a Democrat for the Californian governorship, on a platform called End Poverty in California (EPIC), but, after a venomous smear campaign against him, the incumbent defeated him. Six years later, with World’s End (1940) he started a successful series and won the Pulitzer Prize for the third volume Dragon’s Teeth (1942) in 1943. Prominent writers like George Bernard Shaw suggested him for the Nobel Prize in Literature due to his political activism. A prolific writer throughout his life – he had more than 100 works of fiction and non-fiction to his name – he died on November 25, 1968, at the ripe old age of 90 in New Jersey.
“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair is a powerful and eye-opening novel that delves into the harsh realities of the American meatpacking industry in the early 20th century. The story follows the struggles of Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to America with his family in search of the American Dream, only to find a nightmare of exploitation, squalor, and injustice. As they settle in Chicago, the family faces horrendous working conditions, poverty, and a cycle of despair. The novel takes readers on a journey through the meatpacking plants, slums, and political corruption that characterized the time. Through vivid and often shocking depictions, Sinclair exposes the grim underbelly of capitalism, shedding light on the deplorable conditions faced by immigrant workers and the corruption that plagues both the industry and the government.
“The Jungle” is a masterpiece of social commentary and a scathing indictment of the exploitation and inhumanity suffered by the working class in the early 20th century United States. Upton Sinclair’s detailed and graphic descriptions of the meatpacking process and the living conditions of immigrant workers are both powerful and distressing. The novel succeeds in conveying the unsanitary and dangerous environment these laborers were subjected to, as well as the callous disregard for their well-being by the industry’s owners and the government.
One of the strengths of this book lies in its ability to provoke a strong emotional response from the reader. The misery, hardship, and injustices faced by the characters are depicted so vividly that it’s impossible not to feel empathy and outrage. Sinclair’s storytelling keeps you engaged as you follow the protagonist’s journey from hope to despair, and his narrative style makes the reader deeply invested in the characters’ fates.
Moreover, “The Jungle” had a profound and lasting impact on American society, leading to significant reforms in the meatpacking industry and the establishment of the Pure Food and Drug Act. The novel’s exposé of corruption and its portrayal of the brutal exploitation of immigrant workers contributed to significant social and political change, making it a pivotal work in American literature.
In summary, “The Jungle” is a thought-provoking, disturbing, and unforgettable novel that unveils the dark side of the American Dream and serves as a catalyst for social change. While it’s not an easy read due to its grim subject matter, it remains a relevant and essential work for anyone interested in understanding the historical struggles of the working class and the power of literature to effect change.