While the works of Upton Sinclair are not widely read today because of their primacy of social change rather than aesthetic pleasure, works like The Jungle are important to understand in relation to the society that produced them. Sinclair was considered a part of the muckraking era, an era when social critics observed all that was wrong and corrupt in business and politics and responded against it. The Jungle was written primarily as a harsh indictment of wage slavery, but its vivid depictions of the deplorable lack of sanitation involved in the meatpacking industry in Chicago resulted in public outrage to the point where Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
The Jungle is a product of the era when industry was rapidly evolving and millions of immigrants came to America, the perceived land of milk and honey. What they often found instead were a lack of jobs, low paying jobs in deplorable conditions and the realization that the American dream was not equally accessible to all. In the novel Sinclair denounces in brutal prose the deplorable conditions of the Chicago stockyard where the men and women workers are diminished to a level lower than the dumb beasts they must slaughter in the fields. Many immigrants were forced to accept such conditions and low wages because they did not have other options. Jurgis wrestles with this dilemma when he thinks of turning down a job in the lowest of all occupations, a fertilizer plant worker, "As poor as they were, and making all the sacrifices they were, would he dare to refuse any sort of work that was offered to him, be it as horrible as ever it could? Would he dare to go home and eat bread tha...
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...llows Sinclair to tack on an optimistic ending where often in life none was found. Like Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, the ending of Sinclair's novel is a victory for the common man, the working class man and woman who were so great in number, so indomitable in spirit, and so determined to survive that there was no force of oppression too great to be surmounted, "...then we will begin the rush that will never be checked, the tide that will never turn till it has reached its flood-that will be irresistible, overwhelming-the rallying of the outraged workingmen of Chicago to our standard!...We shall bear down the opposition, we shall sweep it before us-and Chicago will be outs! Chicago will be ours! CHICAGO WILL BE OURS!" (Sinclair 341).
Sinclair, U. The Jungle. (7th printing). New York: The New America Library of World Literature, 1964.
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