The Jungle: A Historical Perspective
Upton Sinclair's the Jungle is a simple story about a family of Lithuanian immigrants, and how the Man spoils their fun. In a historical perspective, the writer, Upton Sinclair, was a socialistic journalist, who wanted to portray the bourgeois in a bad light. Thus, in a fit of muckraking, he produced this hymnal to the distribution of wealth. In this review I will present the long and short ends of the stick.
First, the short end, which I borrowed from Book-A-Minute: "Bad things happen. Worse things happen. Better things happen. Awful things happen. Jurgis discovers socialism and gets all happy." THE END
Now for the long end, which pretty much fills up all the gaps, but pretty much is the story:
An immigrant from Lithuania, Jurgis Rudkus, and his family go to America in the middle of the Gilded Age. Jurgis faces social injustices, and through such interactions, the book's theme is revealed: the support of socialism over capitalism. Jurgis learns soon that he alone can't earn enough to support his entire family, in spite of working harder. Soon the entire family is working as well in an attempt to cover expenses. However, this proves itself to be too dangerous and detrimental. Jurgis becomes hardened by his bad experiences as he realizes that, in the capitalist society that he was living in, there is no justice; hard work is not justly rewarded, and instead corruption is. Soon he is injured on the job and is forced to stay home for two months while his mangled foot heals. Upon his return he finds himself replaced. Desperate, he takes a position at the glue factory. His wife is pregnant, his family is working themselves to the bone, and the bills are mounting. Jurgis turns to drinking. Things get worse: he learns that his wife has been forced to have sex with her boss, Connor. Jurgis, in a rage, attacks him at the Packinghouse and is arrested for battery. He spends a month in jail, where he meets Jack Duane, who introduces him to a life of crime. When Jurgis gets out of jail, everyone has lost his or her jobs and the house is lost also. Soon Ona is having a child, but because of the lack of funds to pay for proper care, both she and the child die in labor. His son drowns, many family members have died and the remnant is scattered. Jurgis takes to the country to become a tramp, but as winter approaches he knows he must return to the city once again. Jurgis becomes a beggar. After receiving $100 from Freddie Jones, the son of rich Old Man Jones, he goes into a bar and gets into another altercation, this time with the bartender, and is again arrested. Soon he turns to Jack Duane to enter a life of crime. However, another encounter with his wife's boss brings out his true self again, the man who stands up for his moral convictions. After beating him again, he is arrested and jumps bail. By pure luck he wanders into a socialist meeting while looking for food and shelter. There his life begins a change in earnest. He learns at that meeting what the working class can do to make a difference. Soon after he reunites with his daughter Marjia, who became a prostitute to support the remnant of the family. The story closes with a happy socialist ending: Jurgis gets a job at a hotel run by socialists and seals his fate. He becomes an avid socialist, and he and Marjia pick up the pieces of their lives to make everything better.
Thus, we see here that The Jungle is cliched to the max. Sinclair attempts to show us the horror of horrors that is the capitalist world, and while he does it, he tries to make socialists look like the 12 Apostles. Can anyone detect a little bias here? My personal response to this was that of initial disgust, and eventual boredom, as the repetitive descriptions of the wretchedness of the workers, including the nauseating mental images of really bad meat eventually become monotonous. Sinclair didn't write this for the literary merit, anyway. Now, I sympathize with the plight of the cursed workers, but I do think that there are better ways to solve their problems than socialism. Another thing I can't stand is the blatant assumption that things could not get any better on their own. Being a hard-core free marketer, I strongly disagree: sure, in the short run, things may not be all that great, but eventually everyone would eventually get better off, with education as well as hard work.
Now, I've read the reaction that the public gave to this man's work, and I couldn't help but chuckle. It was quite ironic for them to mistake the trees for the forest, as the public cried out for better meat regulation. Ah, c'est la vie. Socialism would never get really popular, anyway.