The Jungle Essay
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, clearly depicts the socio-economic strife and political turpitude that ushered America into the 20th century. While telling the story of Lithuanian immigrants struggling to survive in Chicago, Sinclair illustrates how avarice and ruthless competition were driving forces in the exploitational predatory capitalist ³jungle² of American ³society² at the turn of the century. This radical novel, described as muckraking by President Theodore Roosevelt, was a sounding board for pro-socialist politics.
Sinclair¹s polemic drama begins in the back room of a Chicago saloon. The guests are drunk and drained. The prospect of returning to the rigorous labors of the stockyards right after the ceremony leaves them demoralized. Jurgis Rudkus, however, the main character, refuses to succumb to the suffering of the multitudes in Packingtown, a predominantly immigrant community in Chicago. He promises to work harder; he wants to achieve the American dream.
After pooling the family¹s resources, Jurgis is able to leave a dilapidated lodge-house for a ³new² modest home (which had hidden costs) where his family would reside. When Dede Antanas, Jurgis¹ father, loses his job and is forced to kickback a third of his paltry salary in order to get a new job working in a dark, damp, ³pickle room², Jurgis begins to lose faith in America. Jurgis witnesses the darkside of American society, and the resultant lassitude in the workforce. Jurgis observes the butchery of pregnant cows and their unborn calves, which are illegally mixed with other carcasses, including those of sick animals dead on arrival to the stock yards, for consumption. He witnesses beatings, graft, and dirty deals.
As winter approaches, the marriage of Jurgis to Ona becomes cheerless. The pressures of work, poverty, and illness stifle their spirits. Jurgis¹ father dies.
Vexed by the working conditions of Packingtown, Jurgis joins a labor union where he begins to learn English. He develops a cynical attitude towards democracy. Eventually, the deteriorating working conditions, sickness and despair make life too depressing for Jurgis. He discovers that his wife was pressured into sleeping with her boss, and that the second child she...
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...d over 60 characters to show that people in all walks of life were traumatized and corrupted by the system.
The Jungle helps us understand the industrial revolution from the personal disadvantaged view of the proletariat. It is an exposé of many ills, including specifically, vile practices of the meat-packing industry. Of his own work, Sinclair reported, ³I wish to frighten the country by a picture of what its industrial masters were doing to their victims; entirely by chance I stumbled on another discovery - what they were doing to the meat supply of the civilized world. In other words, I aimed at the public¹s heart, and by accident, I hit it in the stomach.²
This novel by Upton Sinclair is worth reading because it presents the history of turn-of-the-century America from a deeply personal view that goes well beyond events to penetrating comprehension. The study of history offers much more than the memorization of facts and Sinclair¹s The Jungle exemplifies this, through historically-based, dramatized pathos. One is not obliged to believe in his socialist or anarchist views to appreciate the value of this pioneering work.
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