Literature is a powerful and persuasive tool. History holds the proof that a well-written novel, even a work of fiction, has the power to profoundly impact society. One such novel is Upton Sinclair’s 1906 expose of the American immigrant, infamously titled The Jungle. The story is of the trials and tribulations of a Lithuanian family struggling to earn a living in the slaughterhouses of Chicago. The issues faced by this family are some of the most disturbing fictional depictions of the lower class, and some of the most well-read in the past century. The Jungle, now hailed as a literary masterpiece, is credited with being the reason for the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act of the early 1900’s (Ewers). Though Sinclair’s story is revered for supposedly helping to reform a corrupt industry, research of both the current day meat packing industry and life of the twenty-first century immigrant proves that the story actually had very little consequence. In addition, research about Sinclair himself raises a number of questions about his motives and credibility. Although Sinclair’s novel was well received and thought to have made a major impact on society, it actually had very little effect on anything but the American psyche.
To further understand what has not changed because of The Jungle, it is first important to understand what the initial impact of the story was, and how it is perceived today. The very famous words of Upton Sinclair explain the forceful impact of his story perfectly, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach (Cohen).” When The Jungle was first published in 1906, it was a series of short stories describing the plight of the main character, Jurgis, and his poverty-stricken family. The details of starving children and power-hungry big
business leaders were not what startled the American public however, but the details of men and rats being made into meat, and of the disease and filth that was entering the American meat supply. Americans were shocked and horrified by Sinclair’s portrayal of the unsanitary conditions of meat packing facilities, of workers losing fingers into the ground beef, of diseased animal carcasses being adulterated with chemicals and sent to market (Abrahamson). Though the story was meant to have a deeper meaning, more specifically a political one, the public was far too disgusted and fascinated by the details of the food they were purchasing than anything else.
The uproar that was caused by Sinclair’s supposed research of these factories received the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, who performed research of his own that led to the creation of new food inspection acts. The Meat Inspection Act of 1906 put tough restrictions on packing facilities, instituting a system that allowed certified federal meat inspectors to check all carcasses as they traveled throughout the process. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the other act created, and it...