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Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” is a novel created by a complex author and merits nothing less than respectable and noble admiration. The novel is overly compelling and illustrates vivid believable characters on their human suffering. Sinclair was a socialist who did not agree with the capitalist mind and was determined to unveil truths by means of his writing of the horror the poor working class endured. Surely the book was too detailed concerning the meat packing industry but he was unveiling the truths about what capitalism really was all about. It was a movement if you will, on the changes that needed to evolve sooner rather than later. Many misunderstand Sinclair’s claims against the meat packing industry. It depicts a time in America that was without question horrifying for those that worked in Chicago’s “Packingtown.” Clearly there was injustice in that time directly impacting impoverished Lithuanian immigrant men, women and children. Many critics have disclosed their share of negative criticism and I believe it is simply due to the fact that they have utterly missed the point. Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was the voice of the exploited working class and the novel exceeded his role as a socialist to bring forth the much needed change through his works of literature. I do not consider this novel to be in any way misleading, perhaps at times somewhat exaggerated but it depicts a time where reform was at the top of the agenda and eventually took its course of action thus leading us to The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Sinclair was so moved by his investigations of the meat packing industry that he willingly financed with his own money the publication of this novel. For that he deserves outstanding merit for his work.
While the characters are fictitious, these horrific acts of inhumanity did in fact occur to many immigrant workers in the meat packing industry. Many lost their lives due to the deplorable state of the factories and lack of safety standards that were not on anyone’s agenda. “It seemed that he was working in the room where the men prepared the beef for canning, and the beef had lain in vats full of chemicals, and men with great forks speared it out and dumped it into trucks, to be taken to the canning- room. When they had speared out all they could reach, they emptied the vat on the floor, and then with shovels scraped up the balance and dumped it into the truck; this floor was filthy with manure tracked in from the streets, and with spit, and the accumulated dirt of years...” (p. 52). Despondently this was the callous realism that came with industrialization, capitalism and a system unwilling to lend mercy. The conditions of the environment in which workers are expected to perform their duties are beyond ones comprehension. Plainly put, they are horrifying. They undergo extremes in cold weather, heat exhaustion, overtiredness, and disease. Yet the people are appreciative to be employed because otherwise they will starve and die.
Furthermore, “The Jungle” is a moving novel that is hard to identify, unless you have been directly impacted by some form. It can heave on politically, however, it by and large allows the reader to step aside from all of this and see the great impact it caused. It changed our lives forever and is a great piece of American history. It helped bring about reform for the meat packing industry that would otherwise have continued killing people with the diseased meat that was processed there. While reading the book I often asked myself, why didn’t anyone take action sooner? Capitalism was created and not parted at the expense of human beings that were treated just as the slaughter in “The Jungle” only slightly different.
The personal hardships along with economic struggles, the characters are exposed to, mainly Jurgis are with out any consideration and leaves no room for optimism on a brighter tomorrow. There are no plans for the future. Jurgis strives to achieve the best he can and the best he can is not ever adequate. He endures a distressing life filled with deceitfulness, drug abuse, and transgression to name a few. Jurgis’ moral principles are challenged time and time again. “BUT A big man cannot stay drunk very long on three dollars. That was Sunday morning, and Monday night Jurgis came home, sober and sick, realizing that he had spent every cent the family owned, and had not bought a single instant’s forgetfulness with it”(p.175). The fundamental values of family and hard work are in strain and lack in providing social advancement for Jurgis. They serve no straightforward purpose thus he goes faltering through out his life. At home he struggles with his faith, family bonds and heritage. His Christian faith offered very little in times of despair and does nothing in terms of hope for Jurgis.
The problems faced in this book were reflective of the nation as a whole and not just the meat packing industry. In early twentieth century, immigrants arrived to the United States and were exposed to racism and aggression. Wages barely met the needs of the American working class let alone the immigrant working class. The working conditions in most industries were unsafe and unsanitary, lacking proper federal supervision. Employed men, women and children worked fifteen hour days of hard labor with minimal pay to survive. The real estate scam that Jurgis and his family encountered is quite frightening, again an act of capitalism. “Nowadays, we have laws that protect us from such scams and we can quickly hire an attorney that will, in most cases do right by us. Once again Jurgis was not that fortunate!
The novel takes on a controversial turn because some believe it was politically minded as oppose to the nature of the problem, the abuse of the poor people directly affected by it and the lack of humanity. It highlights the effects of capitalism on the uneducated poor working class. Sinclair intended for the novel to raise public awareness on how unsanitary, unhealthy conditions were affecting the life of the working poor among the meat packing industry. Instead the public and critics focused on the conditions of the meat that was being processed, sold and consumed by the American public. “There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected and that was moldy and white – it would be dosed with borax and glycerin, and dumped onto hoppers, and made over again for home consumption” p. 126). They were within their rights to be concerned in that these were unsafe practices, however, what about the people working in them? The diseases they were being exposed to and died from. Did they not matter simply because they were impoverished immigrants? Sinclair brings to us a reality never before exposed. He diplomatically exposes through his skillful writing, social abuse and what many capitalist feared, restructure; change.
Maintaining a questionable realistic approach on current FDA guidelines is difficult to attain considering that we as a nation cannot possibly oversee regulation take place. While no one can be quite certain of the effective practices of the FDA or current slaughter houses, we can only hope that the conditions have been eradicated to some degree. To say that they have been entirely would be a faulty statement. Otherwise we would not have the recalls as often as we do. We can only place whatever amount of trust we see fit in the federal inspectors set out by our government who continues to regulate the meat packing industry.
The novel had a tremendous social impact on the working class. The Pure Food and Drug act of 1906 conveyed sympathy on the working class and the animals slaughtering environment. Workers no longer worked near diseased meats and conditions became more unobjectionable. It is now safer and cleaner to consume meats in the US than it was one hundred years ago. Naturally the downside to all of this would be that the consumer, the American people would have to pay a little more for the meat they consumed. Slaughter houses are forced to pay inspectors to do this line of work and that cost would be passed down to the consumer.
The novel deserves a second reading in order to understand the harsh brutality the people endured. They were in mere search of a dream that would turn racial, criminal, and tragic yet they remained grateful to be in America working for dreams that would eventually betray them. They searched for something more than just employment, it was the American dream they pursued, a dream tainted by despair and corruption. This piece of literature improved our lives immensely.
The more I learn and become educated on topics concerning this country on how racism and corruption were so prevalent I find it hard to accept that this is the same Country in which I live in today.