Honors US Comp
November 30, 2017
Book Review of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
The Jungle is a highly provocative, concerning, dark, and gruesomely vivid story about a family of Lithuanian immigrants who try to make a better living for themselves working in the meatpacking industry of “Packingtown,” Chicago. The main character, Jurgis, tries desperately to bring wealth and happiness to his family in a place that he was told would bring opportunity, but is constantly met with one stumbling block after another regardless of the effort that he puts forward. Through all of the troubles that he and his family face, he continues to hold on to the hope of something better, and clings to the thought that he can make things work out by “working harder.” Jurgis is a naively optimistic, tragic character that works as a satirical example of the American dream. While The Jungle is most often remembered for its brutal descriptions of the meatpacking industry, that ultimately led to the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, its main goal is to use feelings of pity for Jurgis and his family to illustrate the author’s dissatisfaction with the construct of capitalism and industrialization in America, and promote socialist values.
Upton Sinclair was a Socialist party member from an impoverished background who spent the autumn of 1984 observing the meatpacking industry in Chicago before deciding to make it the subject for his novel. His experiences growing up, along with what he witnessed in his research, established in him a bitterness toward class disparity and what he saw as a social order that was discriminatory toward the lower class. He would later say of his book, “externally the story had to do with a family of stockyard workers, but internally it was the story of my own family.” (Phelps, 2005) For Sinclair, promoting socialism was not a matter of idealist political agenda, but was rather a very personal rallying cry directed at the atrocities of the elite class.
One of the first first anti-capitalist ideas present in The Jungle is that the elite upper-class imposes upon the lower-class by providing seemingly beneficial and attractive opportunities while actually misleading consumers for the sake of gaining profit. In chapter 4, Jurgis and his family encounter a real-estate scandal in which they are provided with an advertisement for a beautiful home, “brilliantly painted, new and dazzling.” (Sinclair, 1906) However, when the family sees the house in person it is much different. “The basement was but a frame, the walls being unplastered, and the floor was not laid.” On top of this, the real-estate agent urges them that they must hurry as “there was a little uncertainty as to whether there was a single house left.” Despite this sense of urgency, many of the homes on the street seem newer and unoccupied. Even more conflict ensues when the contract lists the house purchase as a “rental.” When a lawyer is requested, it is to the...