The Jungle

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The Jungle From the point of view of history, The Jungle, is both a comment on and a product of its own times. Those times most definitely need to be viewed in relation to what happened in the last half of the nineteenth century. This incredible time period saw the making of great industries and great fortunes (for those who were in control of the industries). So far as the relationship between business and government was concerned, it was a time of laissez-faire, where government had very little to do with what business was doing. If as Calvin Coolidge said in the 1920’s, ‘the business of America is business,’ what did this mean for individuals, their rights and expectations? The Jungle appeared in January of 1906. It is completely understandable to me that the reading public responded to details on meat production and plant sanitation instead of the conditions of workingmen or Sinclair’s Socialist message. In turn, The Jungle helped to do something completely different than what the book’s author meant for it to do. The Jungle helped to push the Pure Food and Drug Bill out of a House committee and force president Teddy Roosevelt to jump into action. Roosevelt quickly requested the Department of Agriculture to send an investigating committee and through additional pressure, including Sinclair’s personal appeal, Roosevelt sent in an additional committee (Neill-Reynolds Commission). Also, at the same time a Beef Inspection Act was submitted in the Senate, all of this with Roosevelt’s complete approval. Somehow, when the meat industry found out about all this they were able to get articles published which defended present practices. Since Roosevelt was not able to exert the pressure he himself felt, he released a portion of the Neill-Reynolds report, which basically confirmed the truths of the packinghouse conditions that were depicted in The Jungle. It is my opinion that the fact that The Jungle could cause such a large industry to fight back powerfully attests to its own power as a persuasive medium. Upton Sinclair’s often quoted remark about aiming for the heart and hitting the stomach definitely rings true when reading The Jungle. Most readers mistook it for another muckraking effort, on unsanitary conditions in the packinghouses. If Sinclair had not written the last three of four chapters of the book then it would have read much more like a social protest novel. Most definitely the purpose of The Jungle is to promote socialism as the only answer to the wage slavery enforced by capitalism.

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