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  1. #1

    Brief Thoughts

    I tried reading The Jungle on my own as a self-propelled venture to explore the greatest or most important novels of the 20th Century.

    Now, I found this book in a book store, and was intrigued by what I read about it from other sources. (Internet, the always trustworthy quotes on the ostentatious special anniversary sleeve, etc.)

    It wasn't until I actually tried reading it, it was then that I had passed the figurative event horizon: I got caught in the maelstrom and lost the Falconer. (Purely puerile melodrama... ^_^)

    Anyways...

    I was surprised, unpleasantly, to find no dialogue in this book. I found myself reading through the first chapters actually waiting for the characters to develop themselves, and not have Upton tell me about them, or infer or interpret their actions and feelings, etc for me. (First rule of writing: Trust in your work, trust in your readers.) I found there to be no way to attenuate my ennui from having my hand held throughout the story of jejune characters and their sub-standard living and working conditions, save the occasional tour through the slaughterhouse. But even that was absent of lyrical and rhetoric minutaie that could have captured my interest and sustained me long enough to finish this whole story. And it's a little frustrating when the author insists on telling you "You can't help but humanize these pigs." I'm pretty sure that we could have done that ourselves, without your sprinkling your metaphor cliffnotes. (PS: The addition of Cliffnotes, or explanation of your own works is what lowered the initial intrinsic value of T.S. Eliot's Wasteland. But that was before Upton's time, so it's not HIS fault.)

    To all those that perpetuate the "historical significance" of this book: WE GET IT! But believe me, this is no "Uncle Tom's Cabin." (And even that was a gross over-exaggration used to blanket a finite dissection of Pharisee-esque and, as far as economic afairs are concerned, irrational Southern slave owners.) I do agree that everyone in high school should read this, if not for anything but to prove that you can write something so artless and jejune containing nothing more than puerilely acerbic glutting and still be considered a great success and important figure in the history of the great benefit of future American generations. (At this point I would like to point out that I have said the previous statement with a facetious undertone. I'm not sure if you could tell, but if you liked this book and found it helpful throughout the book, then: Your welcome! ^_^)

    To summarize, reading this book was like watching a cheap horror movie that was a collaborated attempt by both Michael Moore and Michael Bay: cheap story filled with glutting into the Socialist agenda where you try and look past it for the macabre pot-of-gold at the end of this oil-stain rainbow, but are ultimately disappointed when you realize that there is as much substance to this story as any Michael Bay or Michael Moore film, and definitely worth only a minute fraction of the amount of time you would spend watching either of their films.

    IF you do happen to enjoy either of those ingenuous Pharisees, then you will definitely love this book.

    You've been warned.

    PS: If you do want to see a movie with the same Socialist propoganda, but with alot better gore, watch George Romero's Land of the Dead. Slightly more entertaining.
    Last edited by Boohyabuddha; 02-19-2007 at 06:09 PM.

  2. #2
    Did you have anything substantive to say or were you, as it seemed, just trying out your new thesaurus? I find your comments on "The Jungle" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin" lacking in understanding and accuracy. A "Brief Thought" indeed.

  3. #3
    Lost in the Fog PabloQ's Avatar
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    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.

  4. #4

    just a little f.y.i.

    The Jungle is an extremely influential book with a lot of deeper meaning. First of all, a primary reason Sinclair wrote The Jungle was to expose the cruelties of Capitalism in general, but more specifically of the 1900's. He wanted to expose the corruption involved in american capitalism and the lack of programs to help the underprivledged classes. Second, the characters are somewhat underdeveloped. This is because he was trying to hold back, if you will. He did not want to awaken the public so much in fear that his plan would backfire. He was looking out for the working class in which he wrote about. He did not want them to get fired from the only jobs they had to sustain their families, or for working conditions to worsen. If he were to have delved deeper into the characters, the book could have sacrificed over exaggeration, over emphasis, and worst of all, it could have had exactly the opposite of the impact he wished for. So, there you go. Im not trying to make you sound stupid, but really, think about it. Its an amazing book, and it completely changed modern day capitalism for the better.

  5. #5

    Exclamation

    I'm quite suprised by your comments and understanding of the book. The lack of dialogue in The Jungle is intentional, useful, and far from a flaw in Sinclair's writing. Influenced by Zola, particularly The Drinking Den, Sinclair used a style of narration to create a more objective feel to the novel. Being a naturalist, he was not conserned with presenting the subjectiveness of his characters through dialogue, something you and many readers are used to.

    There is dialogue throughout the novel, but there are no quotation marks. Sinclair presents is characters thoughts and words through the narration, even in their own voice, somewhat.

    Most of what I have read in these comments are not issues that you all have with Sinclair, but seem to be issues you take with Naturalism. The novel and all of its components are quite affective and would not have worked nearly have well if the writer had taken your advise.

  6. #6
    You obviously know NOTHING about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Too bad about that research. (For anyone who knows nothing about Harriet Beecher Stowe, she was biased, a northern white woman who knew how many black people again? Exactly.)
    I'm not saying Sinclair's any better; hell, he was a muckraker.

    The reason Jurgis never sees any uplifting is because Sinclair's suggesting that the only possible reform is in Socialism.
    Help the worker's plight.

  7. #7
    Lost in the Fog PabloQ's Avatar
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    I'm not buying the idea that Sinclair saved the American worker from the trusts of the early 20th century. I haven't read any one who gives him that much credit, just credit for reforms introduced to the meat packing industry by Teddy Roosevelt.
    However, if socialism is what saves the American worker from the dismal life depicted here, why didn't Sinclair do a better job of showing a glimmer of upside for this Everyman named Jurgis. That doesn't happen. So what's the point.
    I also find it unlikely that the American worker was picking up a copy of The Jungle and reading it. The target audience had to be someone in the reading public of the time and that, my friends, was not the immigrant worker -- meat packer, auto worker, or otherwise.
    No damn cat, no damn cradle - Newt Honniker

    Currently Reading: The Warden - Anthony Trollope

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    I have to object to the continued use of the word "socialism" to describe the agenda Upton Sinclair was trying to advance. I realize that that's the word he used in the book, but what he was advocating was pure, unadulterated communism. While operating along similar trains of thought, socialsim and communism are 2 very different things. Things like universal healthcare and minimum wage laws are socialist ideas. They provide checks against the type of oppressive capitalism detailed in The Jungle. But those types of things were never mentioned in the book. On the contrary, the book preached the revolution of the proletariat against their capitalist masters which would lead to a common ownership of the means of production. This type of idea describes communism to a T.

  9. #9
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    I really enjoyed this book, till about the last 20 pages. It seemed, that those last 20 pages showed Upton Sinclair's philosophy as a fanatical socialist who thinks that socialism will solve each and every one of our problems, like how a dishwasher will by a snowball effect, solve most of the problems troubling the working class.

  10. #10
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    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.
    Last edited by polymath01; 03-02-2009 at 08:51 AM.

  11. #11
    Realist cp256's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whawkins2007 View Post
    The Jungle is an extremely influential book with a lot of deeper meaning. First of all, a primary reason Sinclair wrote The Jungle was to expose the cruelties of Capitalism in general, but more specifically of the 1900's. He wanted to expose the corruption involved in american capitalism and the lack of programs to help the underprivledged classes. Second, the characters are somewhat underdeveloped. This is because he was trying to hold back, if you will. He did not want to awaken the public so much in fear that his plan would backfire. He was looking out for the working class in which he wrote about. He did not want them to get fired from the only jobs they had to sustain their families, or for working conditions to worsen. If he were to have delved deeper into the characters, the book could have sacrificed over exaggeration, over emphasis, and worst of all, it could have had exactly the opposite of the impact he wished for. So, there you go. Im not trying to make you sound stupid, but really, think about it. Its an amazing book, and it completely changed modern day capitalism for the better.
    Sinclair realized after the fact that his book was having unwanted and unintended consequences. Sinclair himself opposed Congress' legislation to further regulate the meat packing industry.

    As for Sinclair's willful misrepresentation of the meat packing industry, the 1906 report of the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Husbandry refuted the worst of Sinclair's charges point-by-point. Some quotes: "willful and deliberate misrepresentations of fact" and "atrocious exaggeration" and "not at all characteristic (of the meat packing industry)". Despite sharing Sinclair's obvious distrust of big business, Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a letter to William Allen White in 1906, "I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth."

    As for changing "modern day capitalism for the better," I beg to differ. It helped to consolidate the power of big business and perpetuate government supported crony capitalism, which is the biggest reason our planet is now broke and in chaos.

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