Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair - 1906 - 495 Pages

September 20, 1878 - Baltimore, Maryland, USA

1906 - Publishes The Jungle

1934 - Runs unsucessfully for Governor of California as a Socialist

1943 -  Wins The Pulitzer Price

November 28, 1968 - Bound Brook, New Jersey, USA

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair shocked the nation, depicting incredibly filthy, unhealthy, unsafe conditions in Chicago Meat Packing Plants.  In 1906 a very high percentage of the cattle and hog production of America was sent to Chicago plants to be slaughtered and processed for sale.  This book so outraged the nation that politicians were forced to initiate inspection procedures and regulations in the plants.  Sinclair worked undercover for seven weeks to gain first hand knowledge.  Sinclair was appalled by how the workers, mostly immigrants were treated. The nation was horrified by the way their food was processed.  The book is really one horror story after another with stories of workers who fall into cooking vats left to become part of canned meat, just one abomination after another.

The story centers on Jurgis Rudkis and his family, newly arrived from Lithuania.  He and his teenage wife Ona are getting married in Lithuania as we meet them.  They have heard how wonderful things are in America, especially they hear everyone gets rich in Chicago.  When they arrive in Chicago Jurgis gets a job in the plant. It is very much a huge factory with thousands of workers mostly doing the same thing over and over. His job is to cut the throat of hogs.

Chicago is a totally corrupt place, inspectors are paid to see nothing, workers toil 12 hours a day, sometimes in extreme heat in cooking rooms, sometimes in below freezing conditions.  Sinclair shows us the horrible impact the brutal working conditions have on the employees, destroying their health while paying them near nothing.  The foremen and bosses exploit the workers, women are forced into sex to avoid being fired.  Everywhere there are people lying in wait to rob immigrants.

Ona’s Wife is forced into sex by an Irish boss named Pat O’Connor.
This begins a terrible downward cycle for the family.  Jurgis gives the man a beating.  After he is arrested he learns the man is highly placed in the Chicago political machine.  He spends thirty days in jail and when he gets out he finds he has been blacklisted from getting a job at the plants.  

Just one bad thing after another happens to Jurgjs and his Family.  The incidents are very well depicted.  In one really weird segment Jurgjs meets while walking the streets a son an owner of The Meat plant.  The man insists he come home with him when he learns Jurgjs is hungry.  The man lives in an incredible mansion, he complains because his father left him with only $2000.00 to get through a week, ten years pay for a packing factory worker. He gets a wonderful feast, is given $100.00 then thrown out by the butler.  Soon he will be robbed of that.

Jurgis does get some breaks, he becomes a small cog in the political machine,teams up with an interesting man he met in jail as strong arm robbers, and more.

There is a disturbing element in the novel.  During a strike the plant brings in large numbers of African Americans from the south to work.  They are depicted in what seems to me a grossly racist fashion.  

Toward the end Jurgis goes to a meeting,thinking there might be free food.  It turns out to be a Socialist Gathering. Jurgjs is entralled, he Is amazed to hear powerful speeches denouncing the plants and the corruption of Society.   He now has an identity, he is a Socialist.

The final two chapters are devoted to speeches by Socialists.  

The Jungle kept my attention as i waited to see what terrible things would happen next.  

From Goodreads on The Publication history of The Jungle

“For nearly a century, the original version of Upton Sinclair's classic novel has remained almost entirely unknown. 

When it was published in serial form in 1905, it was a full third longer than the censored, commercial edition published in book form the following year. That expurgated commercial edition edited out much of the ethnic flavor of the original, as well as some of the goriest descriptions of the meat-packing industry and much of Sinclair's most pointed social and political commentary. 

After reading The Jungle, President Roosevelt invited Sinclair to the White House to discuss it. The president then appointed a special commission to investigate Chicago's slaughterhouses.  Roosevelt overcame meat-packer opposition and pushed through the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. The law authorized inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop any bad or mislabeled meat from entering interstate and foreign commerce. This law greatly expanded federal government regulation of private enterprise. 

The text of this new edition is as it appeared in the original uncensored edition of 1905. 
It contains the full 36 chapters as originally published, rather than the 31 of the expurgated edition.”  

A very informative account of The Meat packing industry in 1905 and The impact of The Jungle.

A twenty  minute video on The Jungle, perfect for classrooms.

I urge all teachers of American history to read The Jungle.  

Sinclair published nearly 100 books.

Oleander Bousweau
Mel u

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

From the description of some of the scenes, I did think you must have found the unedited edition. That's the one I would like to read as well.

Interesting that Sinclair was so fair-minded in some respects, but not all. Perhaps he simply lacked the experience that he needed in order to rethink some of his other errant assumptions.