: A Comparison Essay, Research Paper
The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath appear to be two very different books. One tells the story of immigrants working amidst the horrors of the meat packing plants of Chicago at the turn of the century. The other is placed in California during the Great Depression, depicting one family’s struggle to survive. However, they are more alike than they seem to be. This essay will outline some of their points in common, and what makes these novels “classics” to this day.
The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair is a very vivid book, but at the same time, it is very depressing. The daily struggle of the people living in the Chicago stockyards is heartbreaking. Jurgis Rudkus and his family come to America trying to find freedom, hope, and a better life. Instead, they fall into a trap from which there is no escaping. Cheated at almost every corner, the family tries its hardest to maintain its ideals and still survive. The graphic images show us the conditions that people were forced to toil amidst simply in order to survive. The horrors of the packing plants are many and varied. The meat produced there that goes out to the world is incredibly contaminated, as rats and rat poison are mixed into meat and men fall into giant vats full of lard and are boiled to death until nothing is left of them but their bones. Women, besides being paid less for the same work, are propositioned and harassed; many of them turn to prostitution before they die. Child workers have it especially hard, having to face the bitter cold and dangers that adults are not as vulnerable to.
As the book progresses, one begins to see the comparison between the workers and the cattle that they butcher. The workers are put through the vicious “speeding up,” forcing them to become more and more like machines. The packers exploit every last reserve of strength these people have. If one is hurt or disabled, then he is likely to starve to death on the streets from lack of money. If the workers try to improve their standard of living by striking, then they will probably be “blacklisted” and never be able to get work in Packingtown again. One of the few ways to survive is to become part of the corrupt system itself. By being a strike-breaker and having political alliances with Scully, Jurgis quickly rose to the position of foreman. The problem with doing this is that one begins to lose one’s morals.
Unfortunately, the end of the novel was disappointing. The story of Jurgis’s life almost entirely disappears, and the last few chapters seem to be devoted to promoting Socialism and its ideals. Socialism in itself is a wonderful idea, but as so many things do, this wonderful dream of an idea turned into a terrible nightmare. The leaders of this movement began to exploit its ideals and people. However, the book did not make the impact at the time of its publication that the author intended it to have. Indeed, the public seemed much more concerned about what went into their meat than the plights of the destitute workers. Sinclair himself stated that, “I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident hit it in the stomach.” (America Past and Present, page 722)
The Grapes of Wrath is John Steinbeck’s protest against the discrimination that opposed the efforts of the migrant workers to find jobs. John Steinbeck was well known for writing protest novels, and this was his masterpiece. It relates the story of…
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Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.
Breen, T.H.; Divine, Robert A.; Frederickson, George M.; Williams, R. Hal.
America Past and Present. New York: Addison Wesley Education Publishers Inc., 1999