The Jungle Essay, Research Paper
The Disgusting Socialist Jungle
The Jungle, considered Upton Sinclair s greatest achievement, shows the deplorable conditions in meat packing plants, as well as moving the reader on the path to socialism. In order for Sinclair to give accurate details in the book, he spent over a year researching and writing about the conditions on the meat packing plants in Chicago. This first hand experience allowed for Sinclair to see the plight of the wage-slaves. At the turn of the century, no laws were in place to protect the workers or to regulate the shipment of meat. The Jungle was originally printed in a socialist newspaper, entitled Appeal to Reason. When the book was finally published in book form, it instigated a pure food movement, which brought about the Pure Food and Drug Act.
The main characters in the novel are Jurgis Rudkus and his wife Ona Lukoszaite, both Lithuanian. After arriving in America, they are taken to Packingtown to find work. Packingtown is a section of Chicago where the meat packing industry is centralized. As Jurgis and Ona take a tour of the plant, they see the unbelievable efficiency and speed at which hogs and cattle are butchered, cooked, packed, and shipped. In Packingtown, no part of the animal is wasted. The tour guide specifically says, “They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” (42).
After spending some time in the plants, the real picture of the meat industry comes out. The Jungle describes the horrors of the meat packing industry in great detail. People were forced to work from sunrise to after sunset. In the meat reserving plants, the floors were never dry and the workers would catch horrible foot diseases, causing them to loose toes and eventually entire legs. The butchers would be forced to move at blinding pace, often cutting off fingers among other things. They would still have to work, or risk losing their job. Most of the time, the wounds would become infected, and the butcher would die of blood poisoning. The book discusses all the things that were being shipped out to the civilized world as “meat”. Sausages were not really made out of sausage meat. They were mostly composed of “potato flour”, an odorless and tasteless potato extract with almost no food value. There were the cattle that had been fed “whiskey malt”; the refuse of breweries, and these animals would become “steerly”, or covered with boils. “It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged your knife into them they would burst and splash foul-smelling stuff in your face.” According to law, diseased meat could not be sold out of the state. However, there were no laws restricting its sale inside the state. As a result, the tuberculosis-infected hog meat never left Packingtown. It was sold to the meat workers at inflated prices.
Another bad thing about the meat packing plants were there cruelty toward animals. The animals were packed in freight cars, and shipped across the country where many of them died on the trip. Once reaching Packingtown, each hog had a chain fastened around its leg, was hoisted into the air, and carried into a room where its throat was split. When the cattle reached Packingtown, they were stunned by electric shock, and dropped onto a conveyor belt, where a man with a sledgehammer pierced their skulls. These animals existed in very poor conditions, especially the “sterrly” cattle that developed boils. The conditions of the plants seem completely horrible, but I think that Sinclair exaggerates his views of the meatpacking plants to get the message across more blatantly. Of course we all know that Sinclair did in fact get his point across to the people of America when the government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act.
Sinclair uses this book to get more than just a message of disgusting meatpacking plants. He uses the book to show that conflict plays a role in the moving of the reader towards socialism. Man verses man is a prevalent conflict in the book because it shows the wage earners against the wage-masters. The lower class workers are being treated as if they were monkeys, or maybe some sort of intelligent dogs. The bosses of the lower class are heartless, cruel and have no soul. When a man was scalded by a hot, smoldering piece of steel, he received no compensation, and did not even get his job back when he was healed. Jurgis and the proletarians are being held down in low paying, long hour jobs, by a small group of rich men. These men practice something called vertical integration, in which they can control every aspect of the industrial process. An example in the meatpacking industry would include the shipment of the hogs, the slaughtering of the hogs, the packing of the meat, and even the occasional bribing of a government meat inspector. According to many socialists, including Sinclair, large things such as plants and mills should be either divided into small units so that work can coincide in a single person or a family, or in a collective ownership. Under this sort of economy, people such as Jurgis would be able to control their own destiny, not a greedy wage-master. One is forced to believe that if Jurgis was able to control his own destiny, he might have succeeded.
Another major theme that ties into the previous theme is giving the business to the public and running them democratically. This was probably Sinclair s main theme in the novel and was enforced mainly in the second half of the book. In the beginning, there were very few references to socialism, the first of which is a wise old woman, who is a socialist, revealed to Jurgis and Ona that the company that sold them their house hoodwinked them. As the book continued, socialism was brought up more and more. The last chapter shows that not even all socialists agree on everything. The best example of this is the socialist orator and Comrade Ostrinski. These two combine to give Jurgis his first taste of socialism. One could argue that this is the turning point in the novel because it changed the entire mentality of the novel. The tone changed from hopelessly depressed in the first three quarters of the book, to hopefully optimistic in the last quarter of the book. After socialism made serious gains in Chicago and other areas of the country, Sinclair foreshadows bright futures for socialism in the future. The writing of Sinclair in this chapter and others, show that he took a nonfiction approach to writing the novel. He uses statistics because people cannot dispute the facts, and on page 116, Sinclair even footnotes a United States Live Stock Ordinance. The nonfictional approach Sinclair uses helps him to show why socialism is better that the existing governmental system.
In the book The Jungle, Upton Sinclair shows the disgusting almost truths behind the meatpacking industry in America, and tries to get across the idea of socialism. Inside the meatpacking plants were horrible sites of disfigured limbs and the cruelty towards animals. Many people were unaware of these truths until Sinclair got his message across to the people that needed to hear it. Sinclair caused the government to take action and pass the Pure Food and Drug act, which calls for the use of only quality meat. With the present system of governing the big businesses, people like Jurgis would never have a chance to become successful in his life. As Sinclair stresses, socialism would cure this evil and help the individuals become successful in this type of work. He wants the readers to believe his point of view on things like how socialism is better than the existing government. Sinclair wants the big businesses to be regulated by the people, for the people. The Jungle is a very influential book that caused radical changes in the way that businesses are regulated. But what would have anything happened if this book was not written?
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Doubleday, Page 1906. New York, New York.