Published in 1906 and set in the early 20th century, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair follows the story of Jurgis Rudkus. He is a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to the United States in search of a better life. Jurgis and his family are faced with a number of challenges: poverty, exploitation, and corruption. They try to make their way in the new country. The novel is a powerful critique of the dangers of capitalism and the mistreatment of workers in the meatpacking industry.
What was Sinclair’s purpose in writing The Jungle? This essay aims to answer the question. It contains summary and analysis of the book.
What Was Sinclair’s Purpose in Writing The Jungle?
Sinclair did his research by staying in Chicago’s meatpacking district, investigating the plants and the workers’ residences. Upon his findings, he wrote The Jungle, a fictional novel encompassing the life of the Rudkus family, immigrants from Lithuania who have settled in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. They came with the hope of realizing a decent life but upon arrival, they quickly realized that this was not to be. Jurgis, the protagonist came along with his father, fiancée, her fiancée’s stepmother and her six children, the stepmother’s brother, and his fiancée’s cousin. They move from one catastrophe to the other, falling victim to predatory lending which leaves them poor and results in their being evicted from the substandard slum house they had hoped to own. Everybody now has to go to work to sustain themselves; a working environment so corrupt that the family starts to suffer from physical and moral decays. Jurgis, having had his share of trouble wanders into a socialism lecture. He is convinced that his state is a result of the absence of socialist measures. Eventually, he can support his family although their damage is already beyond repair. The jungle has exposed the evils of industrial capitalism and championed the need for socialism. It portrays an industry that sells diseased and damaged meat, one that focuses more on advertising but not the quality of products in question. This idea is met with enough criticism, with some dismissing the book as a pessimistic approach that did not recognize the resourcefulness of immigrant workers. However, it can be concluded that the book’s exposure of conditions in the meat industry prompted the enacting of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906.
Upton Sinclair The Jungle: Summary and Analysis
The end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century saw a mass exodus of immigrants to America, who came in search of the ‘American dream’, where there was freedom and opportunity. In the two chapters of the book, they capture the entries of these immigrants into the country in anticipation of the American dream. This was at a time when working conditions were terrible and wages meager. They are also met with indifference from the citizens who see their foreign cultural practices as a threat to the American culture. The writer begins by introducing socialism through the wedding feast. It (wedding) is a revelation of the similarities in social values between the Lithuanian and American cultures. It exemplifies the primary values; family, community, and charity where the community joins in helping the young couple start a life. It brings greed in individuals who want to take advantage of their naivety, people who betray the American dream. They take advantage of the wedding but Jurgis calmly believes in work to overcome his adversity, he says “I will work harder” (Sinclair 1916, 11). In chapters 3 through 5, efficiency in economic machinery in the meatpacking industry is evident. However, sanitation is wanting and the health of the workers is at stake. Jonas Ona’s uncle got his job because the person before had died of unsafe conditions. Sinclair is sympathizing with workers in the industries but wants the American readers to realize they are unsafe as well because diseased and rotten meat is sold to them.
The issue of a real estate scam is brought forth, another attack on capitalism. The terms of lending are not clearly stated, and the poor family in case of defaulted payment is to be thrown out. They learn that they are the fifth family to try buying the same house. Owning a home is the greatest of the American dream and the capitalist real estate companies have tramped this. It implies good social values like hard work earn their reward, yes, but for one to advance, the enterprising individual has to employ dubious means like lying and being a predator to avoid exploitation (Sinclair 1916, 14). Jurgis learns about the political and governmental systems which are rotten and corrupt as the business world; the labor law reforms are ineffective which explains why children like Stanislovas were forced into grueling jobs because their needs necessitated them to do so. Jurgis eventually becomes an American citizen which again opens him to a criminal underworld where elections are rigged by buying and using the unsuspecting, poor wage laborers to carry out the act.
Chapters 10-13 present a decaying family. One of the crippled children dies and it is a relief to all other than the mother; it was a mouth to feed with nothing to bring forth. Jonas is missing; probably he abandoned the family for his survival. In the capitalist system, the family is not a priority. Ona-Jurgis’s wife has to go back to work only a week after giving birth. Her boss looks at her indignantly for being a respectable married woman who is not willing to join prostitution. Jurgis has no time with his son, though he wished to (Sinclair 1916, 28). As the novel progresses, the family drifts farther when Ona is defiled by her senior. This results in Jurgis’ month in prison for physical confrontation with Connor-Ona’s defiler. Sinclair portrays capitalism as a system discouraging family values; it simply has no respect for this union.
Every part of the book presents a new problem to the family. Chapters 18-21 reveal the death of Ona and her two children, deaths that could be prevented if there was money. There is devastating, with the family now living in a boardinghouse after eviction. The American dream is a sham. Jurgis gets a job with a philanthropic factory only to lose it shortly afterward. In all this, the appearance of the young woman (who referred him to the job) presents kindness in an otherwise cruel world. Her actions do not change the working conditions in the steel mill and the dangerous slum life remains the same hence drowning of his son. It bears a lot of resemblance with chapter 23 of the book on religious revival, in which wage laborers have to struggle to make ends meet, even as Christianity abhors exploitation and immorality. This is a show of the ineffectiveness of philanthropists working in a capitalist system. Sinclair manifests unequal distribution of wealth in capitalism and advocates for the converse through Jurgis’s meeting with Jones. Jones has not worked as hard and in grueling conditions as Jurgis yet reaps all benefits associated with hard work. He has an enviable lifestyle with no conception of the value of money; he hands Jurgis hundred-dollar bills.
Jurgis’ entrance into the crime world demonstrates that predatory acts are better rewarded in The Jungle than living the values of the American dream. He makes much more in a mugging and rigging election than he did as a wage worker.
The issue of racism is evidenced where the scab workers are black southerners who are described as lazy, criminal, and self-destructive. Sinclair refers to them as the “big buck Negroes” and reproduces other stereotypes against blacks in his attempt to raise public outrage against capitalists. Marija has joined prostitution and has no regrets about it. She is a morphine addict and is not willing to leave. The Jungle presents capitalism as a human trafficker, where individuals are seen as a means to an end and not the human beings they are themselves. People have to sacrifice their humanity and integrity to survive. After all the troubles in Jurgis’s life, Sinclair offers a solution which is socialism. This is after he has tried all means of survival in the capitalist world and failed. Wounded and deprived of most of what he had, Jurgis enthusiastically accepts socialism. The speaker understands his predicament making Jurgis have a sense of belonging and so willfully give himself to this new dream.
Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, exposes the dark alleys of capitalism. The book probes the courtrooms, prison, and criminal underworld showing how far evils had penetrated. It has brought to light the plight of workers in the aforementioned areas, reminding us of the after-effects of immigration. Other than the social evils discussed like corruption, conning, and prostitution, racism is clear. The American dream has been tainted by the book. The real estate scam mentioned can better explain the housing bubbles there have been to date due to predatory lending. Literary, the novel ends in a quite simplistic way perhaps to coerce the reader to adopt Sinclair’s line of thought. His views are idealistic and character far from reality as he shifts into politics as much as his book was an eye-opener.
Sinclair, Upton. (1916).The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Jabber & Company.