In the early 1900's life for America's new Chicago immigrant workers in the meat packing industry was explored by Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle. Originally published in 1904 as a serial piece in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, Sinclair's novel was initially found too graphic and shocking by publishing firms and therefore was not published in its complete form until 1906. In this paper, I will focus on the challenges faced by a newly immigrated worker and on what I feel Sinclair's purpose was for this novel.
In the early 1900's a newly arrived immigrant worker faced numerous challenges that had to be overcome. Often times literally arriving with the clothes on their back and a few meager dollars, it was crucial for these individuals to find work and lodging as soon as possible.
The first challenge faced by this individual was the language. Not speaking English places this person at a severe disadvantage when trying to hold even a simple conversation. When trying to attain work, lodging or even food it becomes a grave handicap and an almost impenetrable barrier. Many capitalistic members of American society utilized this handicap to their advantage as a means to swindle and outright steal from the newly arrived immigrants.
Making enough money to survive while protecting what they already had became the second challenge for the freshly arrived immigrant. Smooth talking sales people, corrupt politicians, and a legal system that favored the capitalistic establishment all seemed to work together to disenfranchise the immigrant population at every opportunity.
Throughout Sinclair's novel we see illustrations of corruption at every level. Examples of these acts include the following: Union men who get people jobs but demand a portion of their wages in return; Politicians that give money to people to literally buy their vote; Managers who take advantage of their female employees because they know they hold a position of power; And real estate agents who write contracts that contain so many loopholes and hidden contingencies that they all but guarantee that the signers will be unable to meet the conditions. While not all of these examples have a direct monetary impact, each of the dealings associated with them does which in turn motivates the parties involved to make decisions and perform actions outside the normal scope for their character.
The third challenge faced by new immigrants was acquiring and then keeping steady work. Although the Packingtown in Chicago was in a constant state of activity, the sheer number of available workers and the rule of supply and demand made it difficult for some to find work. It was not uncommon for some workers to stand at the plant doors for weeks before being selected. And once a person was chosen to be a worker, they had to labor at a fever pitch to make sure they were retained.
That being said, the worker's problems did not end once they found steady employment. Employers were...