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A Cry For Deliverance Essay

1276 words - 5 pages

When Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle was published in February 1906, it provoked outrage among the American public and prompted much needed legislative reform within America’s meatpacking industry. Responding to public pressure, President Theodore Roosevelt launched a government investigation. The ensuing report, “Conditions in the Chicago Stock Yards,” confirmed many of Sinclair’s accusations and quickly led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. However, the legislation “contained no labor protection whatsoever” and it ignored the “‘workingmen of America’ to whom [Sinclair] had dedicated his novel” (Phelps 14). Bemoaning the book’s limited success, Sinclair stated, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach” (3). It would seem, then, that Sinclair perceived his novel to be a failure. But, what had he hoped to accomplish? In his introduction to The Jungle, Christopher Phelps explains that Sinclair “intended the novel not merely as a catalyst for reform but as a trumpet call for the social imagination” (1). In other words, Sinclair wrote The Jungle to expose the social inequity inherent within a capitalist society and rather than reform a single industry, Sinclair sought to revolutionize a nation. Specifically, he wanted to call attention to the working conditions of the labored class and advocated socialism as a viable solution for the nation’s ills (15). While the story effectively communicated Sinclair’s purpose, the title did not. The book’s title, although an apt metaphor to express the doctrine of natural selection, “conveyed his view that capitalist society, by favoring profits over people, had reverted to a raw state of nature,” but it failed to advance Sinclair’s cause for the exploited worker or the political system he advocated (1).

Set in the early 1900s, The Jungle relates the experience of Jurgis and his family, who, seeking the American dream, emigrate from the rural forest of Lithuania to the urban jungle of Chicago (Sinclair 63). Arriving in Packingtown, America’s industrial center for the processing and packing of meat, Jurgis’ youthful vigor and large physique quickly secure him a position at Brown’s, one of the three major meatpacking companies in Chicago (70). Energetic and strong, enthusiastic and optimistic, Jurgis initially holds firm to the ideal that hard work leads to success (58, 61, 108).

Little by little, a continuous stream of misfortune befalls Jurgis and his family, gradually chipping away at his physical and emotional well-being, not to mention his faith in the American dream. First, Jurgis’ father Antanas, while only sixty years old, cannot find work on account of his age (83). Although he eventually secures a position, it is only because he is willing to pay someone for it (97-99). Nevertheless, the cold and damp working environment damages his health and hastens his premature death (114). While the loss of Antanas grieves the family,...

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