The Jungle Essay, Research Paper
?The Jungle is perhaps the most brutal novel ever written in America. It is one long scream of pain and tragedy? (Cook 117). The novel shows the reader how hard being an immigrant was in the early 1900s. Immigrants had to take any job they could, even if that meant working in the packing plants, which Upton Sinclair shows in the novel. Jurgis Radix is the main character. Jurgis and his family move to America searching for a better life. Jurgis works in a packing plant and is continuously loosing his job. Halfway through the book, Jurgis? wife dies trying to give birth. The rest of the novel shows the reader Jurgis?s hardships with his jobs and life. The novel, The Jungle depicts the horrors of meatpacking in the early 1900?s, and helps push the government for stronger sanitation laws.
The conditions in the meatpacking plants were so terrible that several men would died on the job. The things that were in the meat that the public ate were so revolting that Sinclair found it a need to write about it. Sausage meat would be shipped to Europe and be rejected and sent back to the U.S. By the time it reached the U.S., the sausage would be moldy and white, and then it would be ?dosed with borax and glycerin, dumped into hoppers, and then made over again for public consumption ? (Grall 1).
Rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them, then they would die, and then the rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. The meat then would be shoveled into carts and the man doing the shoveling would not trouble to lift out even one rat if he saw it. ?There were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit? (Aryes 2). Hundreds of tons of meat would be stored in huge piles in rooms, and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it. Thousands of rats would race about on it. ?It was too dark in these storage areas to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and seep off handfuls of the dried dung rats? (Aryes 2).
A person in Packingtown said that, ?they use everything in the pig except the squeal? (Frakes 111). Hams that were spoiled ?with and odor so bad a man could hardly bear to be in the room with them? (Frakes 111) were pumped full of a strong pickle to destroy the odor, then sold to the public. Sinclair wrote of a case where a physician made the discovery of steer carcasses that were condemned as tubercular by government inspectors, therefore contained ptomaine?s, which are deadly poisons, were carted away to be sold in the city. Another case told about a whole spoiled ham that was spoiled and was cut up by the two-thousand-revolutions-a-minute flyers, and mixed up with half a ton of other meat. ?No odor was in a ham could make any difference? (Aryes 1). Meatpackers would accidentally drop the meat onto the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers tramped and split uncounted billions of consumption germs.
Under the rigid economy which the packers enforced, some jobs only required that it only be paid to do once in a long time, and among these jobs was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt, rust, old nails, and stale water. Cart load after cart load of this stuff would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public?s breakfast.
Sinclair told about the enormous stockyards Chicago had;
?two hundred and fifty miles of track within the yards. The stockyard brought about ten thousand heads of cattle every day, and as many hogs, and half as many sheep, which meant some eight or ten million live creatures turned into food every year. There was over a square mile of space in the yards, and more than half of it was occupied by cattle pens; north and south as far as the eye can reach there stretches a sea of pens. And they were filled, so many cattle no one had ever dreamed existed in the world. Red cattle, black, white, and yellow cattle; old cattle and young cattle; great bellowing bulls and little calves not an hour born; meek-eyed milch cows and fierce, long-horned Texas steers? (32-33).
It would have taken all day just to count all of the pens. Groups of cattle would be driven to the chutes, which were roadways about fifteen feet wide, raised high about the pens. In these chutes the stream of animals was continuous. It was quite uncanny to watch them, pressing on to their fate, all unsuspicious, ?a very river of death? (33). Sinclair describes the way in which hogs were killed: ?They had chains which they fastened about the leg of the nearest hog, and the other end of the chain they hooked into one of the rings upon the wheel. So, as the wheel turned, a hog was suddenly jerked off his feet and borne aloft. At the top of the wheel he was shunted off upon a trolley, and went sailing down the room? (35). The hogs then went down a line where several workers preformed different tasks of taking the hogs apart and using them for meat.
The working conditions for the meatpackers were so bad that a worker could be killed or severely injured. If the worker was severely injured, it could take months for him to heal, and by that time he would be unemployed. The owners of these plants cared nothing for their workers. All they cared about was their money. They would do anything for their money even if that meant not taking care of their workers. Cut backs were made on safety procedures that injured or even killed the workers. Workers had no place to wash their hands before they ate dinner, so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. The workers would have to work in freezers were the meat was to kept to be preserved. Sinclair told of a young boy in a freezer that had hardly any warm clothes on and his ears where so cold that when they tried to rub them to get warm one of the young boy?s ears fell off. They weren?t very well-clothed. They would catch awful colds and not only that they would have to stand in chemicals ankle deep. A worker could be cutting something and be startled and slice his hand open. There would be nothing to put on the wound to help avoid infection or disease.
Sinclair topped off his novel with a final disclosure. He describes tank rooms full of steam in which men labored on slippery floors processing the meat. Open vats laid upon the level of the floor, the peculiar trouble of these workers ?was they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting. Sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Anderson?s Pure Leaf Lard? (Cook 112)!
To insure that the meatpacking plants would stay open the owners would do just about anything. Any inspector who tried to interfere with the system did not last long. Government inspectors were afraid for their life, so they would lie and pass the meat off as okay for public consumption. Owners paid up to two thousand dollars a week ?hush money? from the tubercular steers alone. Also, the same with hogs which died of cholera on the trains, and which you might see them being loaded into box cars and hauled away to a place called Globe, in Indiana, where they made a fancy lard.
Meat would also be covered up so that they would pass inspection and be able to be sold in the city. To cover it up the workers would put chemicals in it so that it would cover up the smell or even to turn the meat color to its original color if it had been moldy or old.
The Jungle had a wide variety of influences on just about everybody who read the novel. Sinclair?s descriptions of the meat made people ?stare with horror at the corned beef on their dinner tables and promptly write to their congressmen? (Fischer 1). Long before Sinclair?s novel, a good many voters had suspected something was wrong in the Packing Industry, because hundreds of soldiers had gotten sick on embalmed beef during the Spanish-American War. Disease had swept the ranks; death rates had soared. It was later reported, with no exaggeration , ?that more American fighting men had been killed off by the meat packers than by Spanish bullets? (Cook 115). The novel appeared for sale on February 16, 1905. Having investigated the Chicago packinghouses, Sinclair hoped to arouse sympathy for the conditions of the workers and promote the cause of socialism, but in the process he also included graphic description of the filth and poisons that was put into canned meats. Sinclair was disappointed that the public read The Jungle as an appeal for food legislation, he later stated, ?I aimed at the public?s heart and by accident I hit their stomach? (2). Readers didn?t care about the political philosophy imbedded in his message, what got them was the revolting details about the meat they were eating. After the release of The Jungle, a parody on a familiar childhood rhyme appeared in the press. It read:
?Mary had a little lamb,
And when she saw it sicken,
She shipped it off to Packingtown,
And now it?s labeled chicken? (Cook 116) .
The novel was a best seller and led, partly because President Theodore Roosevelt reacted to it by setting in motion a government investigation, to federal meat inspection and the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act. Roosevelt read the book. He was horrified at the books descriptions of the packing houses. Thus, he instructed the Secretary of Agriculture and a commissioner of the Department of Labor to investigate Sinclair?s? story. The two-commission reported that The Jungle did not misrepresent the deplorable conditions of the industry? (Miller 5)It wasn?t easy to pass the two bills, because the packing industry kept striking back viciously. The packing industry was able to win some favorable publicity by printing a series of articles in The Saturday Evening Post saying that the packing industry only produced the purest and finest of meats. Roosevelt?s inspectors confirmed Sinclair?s descriptions so Roosevelt could convince Congress to pass an act. Roosevelt?s investigating commissioners were able to get Mrs. Bloor to help them get in touch with potential witnesses, who were able to confirm some of Sinclair?s allegations. The bill was quickly passed and signed by the President.
Even though bills were passed, they weren?t enforced to the point where it made a huge difference. It did make a difference but diseased meat was still appearing on the city markets. The bills did not pierce the thickest skulls and most leathery hearts among the meat packers, but it had its effect on the American people. Meat sales were cut in half, because of the bills. ?No other American novel, before or since, has produced such fast action? (Fischer 1). Since 1906, many debates have been made about the specifics of food and drug regulation, but never any serious suggestion that the two laws should be repealed.
In conclusion, Sinclair was able to show how meatpacking was hell on earth, and how revolting some of the meat was that was sent out into the public. The owners of the meatpacking industries didn?t care if anybody got sick or died by eating or preparing the meat all they cared about was their money. They had so much money that they were able to pay off inspections just to protect their industry. They would do anything just for their money. That just goes to show the reader what kind of world this world is turning into, a greedy one, a world where the inhabitants would do anything to please their needs or wants. We as a society need to learn how not to be so materialistic and how to respect other people.
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