The Jungle Review Essay, Research Paper
Upton Sinclair’s most famous novel, The Jungle, not only symbolized an era
where dirt and filth ran rampant in meat packing industry, but it also exposed people to
the natural human desire of greed, power, and corruptions. This newly gained knowledge
resulted in a socialist transformation.
The novel follows the lives a large Lithuanian family living during the early
1900s that immigrates to the United States in the pursuit of freedom and happiness. The
family of eleven took what little money they had with them to the United States with the
hope of escaping poverty and providing a better life for their children. After a long,
arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the family arrived in New York and was
swindled out most of their savings by police who were supposed to protect them. The
family continued to travel to Chicago (or Packing town), where they finally settled down.
Upon arrival in Packing town, the family found that the cost of living in the United States
was far more expensive than in Lithuania.
Packingtown was a section of Chicago where the meat packing industry was
centralized. They took a tour of the plant, and saw the unbelievable speed and efficiency
at which the hogs or cattle were butchered, cooked and shipped. In Packingtown, no part
of the animal is wasted; the tour guide explained, “They use everything about the hog
except the squeal” (Sinclair 38). To further add to the family’s problems, they learned
that the only employment available to non-English speaking and uneducated, although
hard-working, immigrants like themselves was scarce, unstable, and even dangerous.
Packing town had been designed to make families depend on their employment in the
factories. When a factory’s employee hurt themselves or was became ill, they would
quickly be tossed aside and replaced with a fresh worker.
Employers in Packing town demanded 16 hour workdays from their
employees and rewarded them with meat infected with tuberculosis, fatigue and low
wages. Large businesses were able to commit such unfair crimes because they paid off
politicians, union leaders and also the police. Another reason employers were able to
treat their employees so poorly was because unemployment was so high; there was
always a constant supply of working men and women to fill any person’s job who may
quit out of protest.
Politicians had no desire to address the needs of the people under their
helm and only had their own special interests in mind. Both the Republican and
Democrat parties bought votes and manipulated numerous elections. The Democrats
ruled Packington and were easily the biggest offender. Men who held political office
were not fresh young men who were elected every couple of years, instead they were the
same elder incumbents, whom have held office for 30 years or more. Although these
incumbents had a lot of experience, they usually looked out for their own personal
interests first, large business interests second, and finally the working people’s interests.
The Communist Party grew popular at the time because citizens found that the
Republican and Democrat parties weren’t doing enough for them. The Communist Party
was built on the platform of helping the working men and women of the United States.
The most tragic concept visible in Sinclair’s novel is the class system. Today,
we have the privilege to strive for a better life and attempt to better ourselves
economically through education. During the early 1900’s, most of the people were born
and died in the same class, never moving up or down. The gap existing between the rich
and the poor was extremely large and there were hardly any middle class citizens.
Although times seemed bad for the immigrants, they had actually left worse
circumstances in their home countries to work in places like Packingtown.
Upton Sinclair tells a story about how the family was cheated before they even
got off their boat. Throughout the entire story, others preyed on the family’s ignorance.
Deemed as the land of opportunity, Jurgi and Ona Rudkus along with their family falls
na?ve to the Americans, needing to realize and make vocal the hardships in which they
were facing. It is truly sad that immigrants were played as such fools as so greatly taken
advantage of, working for such low wages in such hazardous conditions.
Sinclair also did an excellent job of describing the massive organization and
efficiency of Packingtown. It is evident that he despised Packingtown, for being a center
of Capitalism and for its poor and inhumane working conditions, but he was impressed
with it in some ways. Packingtown slaughtered, processed, packed, and shipped hundreds
of thousands of cattle and hogs every day, precisely and accurately. The business’s
leaders’ top priority was maintain a profit-making cooperation, and the workers’ well-
being and happiness was sadly the furthest from their minds.
I found it extremely saddening to read about how the large Lithuanian family
arrived in the United States with great dignity, integrity and determination only to loose it
all to Packingtown. America is founded on a belief that every habitant of the land has a
chance as living a good life, however, this family was sadly turned down from their wish.
After reading Sinclair, a reader would never see the U.S. surviving as a Capitalist
country. The lone option given to the reader is Socialism. The author never mentions the
good that Capitalism has done and never seems to mention any possible flaws in
Socialism. Sinclair presents Socialism as perfection, while all other philosophies
contain flaws. This makes the novel surprisingly one-sided and in opposition to American
Promotion of Socialism is understandable since Sinclair himself was brought up a
Socialist from an early age, stemming from an upbringing in a poor and unsuccessful
family. This explains why he was nurtured a Socialist, as one of the main ideals of
Socialism is equality for everyone. This may also explain why he describes Capitalists as
Cheaters and heartless and describes the working as oppressed heroes. The Jungle is,
however, more than an advertisement for Socialism, it’s a description of the horrors of
the meat packing industry in precise detail.
Upton Sinclair tells The Jungle in great detail. The language Sinclair employs
is appropriate to the scene, the action, and the characters of his drama, painting a picture
for the reader of the problematic struggle of immigrants to establish themselves in the
U.S., as well as the merciless and corruptive conditions to which the meat packing
industry was based upon. Sinclair’s brave attempt to bring attention to this problem,
resulted in massive contributions to our history. It was partially responsible for the
several new acts in congress that cracked down on the meat packing industry such as the
Pure-food and drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. Sinclair’s book, seemingly based
on his personal life trials, is a novel for the ages. It is one of the most effective books, by
drawing the reader’s attention to a horrible problem, ever written.