More Thoughts on The Jungle
I recently finished "The Jungle" and I understand the frustration. The lack of dialog is not the book's issue. I found the absolute lack of hope for the main character, Jurgis Rudkus, to oppressive and depressing. In the end, even socialism provides no relief to this poor guy. The version that I read had a footnote at the end of the text that said Jurgis was carted off to jail the afternoon of the great socialist victory.
At no point in time do we see a soluton to the problems presented along the way in this novel. As horrible as the depiction of conditions in the slaughterhouse may be, there is no suggestion of how it could be made better. Despite the oppressive system that kept the stockyard workers poor, starved, indebted, and morally desperate, the nugget of relief for the situation is the bone of socialism Sinclair throws in at the end of the book. This description is a hammering of socialist idealism which must have been inspiring to potential Socialists of the early 20th century looking to have their beliefs reinforced through the serialization of this novel, but for the non-Socialist must have seemed laughable. However, Sinclair never gives us a view of how Socialism might have helped these characters in this novel because he never shows it to us. Essentially, the socialists by the end of the novel have succeeded in getting out the vote, but not taking control of any office that allows their agenda to advance in such a way to help any of the unfortunate situations depicted throughout the novel.
So as I finished this novel, I wondered whether holding up the mirror is enough. I know this novel inspired Theodore Roosevelt to push through legislation that is the forerunner of the Food and Drug Act. But I haven't read anything to indicate that it inspired any reforms to improve the working conditions for the immigrants that were exploited by the greedy capitalists and the corrupt political machine described in the novel.
There's an old sick joke that the best thing about a good beating is that it feels so good when it stops. In "The Jungle", I knew Jurgis' beating was over and as a reader so was mine.
A lot of good yet sometimes misdirected posts...
There is a lot of very good observation here about Upton Sinclair and his writings of The Jungle. I thought I would reinforce, clarify and share a few of my own.
The following are my views combined with knowledge I gained from reading the Bedford edition of the book which contained an extensive introduction written by Christopher Phelps. So a lot of the facts I present here are credited to the information in his intro.
In reference to the comparison between The Jungle and Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is a known fact that Sinclair's publisher tasked him with writing the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" of labor reform. However, Sinclair himself admitted that "I aimed for their hearts, but hit their stomachs." Upton Sinclair knew that he missed the target.
The book is a narrative piece. When he explains his metaphors, it is because his average reader was the 25 to 40 year old working middle class American that the work was meant to target. It was published in serial form in a socialist magazine before it was ever published as a book.
Sinclair had separately sold the publication rights for the book. It was supposed to be printed in book form after the serial had been completed. However, the book company refused to print it as they thought it was too graphic for their audience. He later was able to get Doubleday to print the book who insisted on some changes before doing so.
Sinclair came from a well off family that fell into despair and lived in squalor. In his autobiography, Sinclair had said that he patterned Jurgis and the family after his own, which gave him a strong emotional tie to the character.
He also had taken a break from the writing of the serial in the middle of the series due to the overwhelming nature of what he was writing and nature of his research. If you read carefully, you can see at what point he started writing the story again, as the story shifts in both tone and plot as if it were brushing over a series of events so Sinclair could get on with what his renewed energy wanted him to write about.
Roosevelt considered Sinclair a muckraker yes. However, the reason he did not like Sinclair was for his staunch socialist views. That and he considered him a pain in the you know what because Sinclair peppered him with letters calling for reform.
Roosevelt was a reformist. In fact he had invited Jacob Riis, the author of How the Other Half Lives to a political post and Riis refused. Riis was a predecessor of Sinclair who wrote about tenement reform in New York City. However, since Sinclair was a socialist and an activist, Roosevelt was careful to distance himself from Sinclair. This is evident in that Roosevelt's letter to congress and the investigation performed by Neill and Reynolds never mentioned Sinclair, nor did it address much if any of the plight of the workers in the industry.
The Jungle was one of the most translated books of its time. It was also one of the most read books. There is no doubting that Sinclair wrote for the audience of the day. I especially like the comment comparing Sinclair to Michael Moore. I would say this comparison is absolutely the best comparison you could make to frame who Sinclair is, and his motives in his writing. Sinclair claims he does not use any embellishments, and the report to congress seems to verify this claim. Yet there is no doubt that Sinclair sensationalizes the subject. He had too. Periodicals were extremely competitive during that era and if he was not effective in capturing his audience and drawing them in, the publisher would know immediately through the number of copies each issue sold.
The serialization of his work created problems for Sinclair. Each chapter represents an "episode", which means it had to 1.) develop the plot and characters 2.) have a distinct topic or subplot that could be resolved by the reader and 3.) has to leave the reader wanting for more at the end so they will pick up the next issue. This type of writing does not work well in book form.
Sinclair's extensive detail describing things down to the minutia is a tool which he uses (perhaps sometimes too much, but nonetheless effective) in order to lend credence to his "facts". The more details you show you can share, the more factual they appear to be. It is a fictional story rooted in research. Therefore his prose alone must convince his reader of these "truths."
Personally I read the book in high school and that was over 25 years ago. I probably shared many of the same feelings of it being long and drawn out, more gory than necessary, bent strongly to Sinclair's political views, etc. (credit to all OPs) Having just read it again after 25+ years, I can say that my views have changed on it significantly. I see color in Sinclair's words that I never appreciated when I was younger. He is very artful in his prose. However it is a classic case of having two competing thesis. The author's intended thesis of social reform for the oppressed worker is fighting with and often overtaken by the thesis that the meat packing industry is wrought with corruption, poisoning America, and needs complete reform and government regulation.
I would recommend anyone that does not enjoy this book on their first read, should put it down and come back to it 10 years later. You might be pleasantly surprised.