Essay on The Broken American Dream Exposed in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Essay on The Broken American Dream Exposed in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

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Sinclair's novel is meant to entirely reject the capitalist system and to bring in its place a socialist system. In this novel, capitalism and its exploitation of the immigrants and other workers, are in fact shown to be tools of the capitalist bosses, used as another means to control and mislead them. In Sinclair's novel the broken dreams of Jurgis Rudkis and his fellow Lithuanian immigrants, unions are meant to be institutions which give false hope to the workers. They live in utterly dreadful circumstances and are exploited like animals by their capitalist bosses. The women are forced to work at an inhuman pace, lose money if they cannot, and then fired if the complain. (106). And the men in the packinghouses like slaves in hell. When Jurgis is lucky enough to be picked for work, he finds working conditions to hardly fitting of the American Dream for which he left his native Lithuania. Sinclair is relentless in providing page after page of detailed horrors the immigrants faced everyday at work, "there were the beef luggers who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerators cars, a fearful kind of work, that began at four o'clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years.......of..... al those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who had the use of his thumb (101).

These horrors are intensified by the fact that the immigrant workers are paid wages which barely allow them to live. They dwell in crowded tenements hardly fit for human habitation. And the political climate of the era, in terms of its effect on their lives, as both workers and consumers, was one of corruption and laissez-faire. The capitalist bosses were essentially allowed by political leaders to do whatever...

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...Dream in general. And that they find the unions effective and corrupt, and find as well that they are on their own in a sea of sharks.

Socialism, to Sinclair, is the only answer for the immigrant worker, because it is an option which will not merely try to reform a corrupt system from a naively Progressive perspective, but will completely do away with capitalism and replace it with a just and fair system designed to treat human beings like human beings instead of like machines or animals to be abused and used up and tossed away when they prove rebellious or are no longer capable of adding to profits. If we accept Sinclair's premise, that capitalism is utterly corrupt and inhumane, then his criticism of unionism (in the context of capitalism) makes sense, as does his argument for socialism.


Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Signet, 1990.

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