Upton Sinclair


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Upton Sinclair (1878-1968), noted American muckraker, social activist, essayist, and Pulitzer Prize winning author wrote The Jungle (1906);

.... and so Jurgis learned a few things about the great and only Durham canned goods, which had become a national institution. They were regular alchemists at Durham's; .... They advertised "potted chicken," .... the things that went into the mixture were tripe, and the fat of pork, and beef suet, and hearts of beef, and finally the waste ends of veal, when they had any. They put these up in several grades, and sold them at several prices; but the contents of the cans all came out of the same hopper. And then there was "potted game" and "potted grouse," "potted ham," and "deviled ham"-- de-vyled, as the men called it. "De-vyled" ham was made out of the waste ends of smoked beef that were too small to be sliced by the machines; and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white; and trimmings of hams and corned beef; and potatoes, skins and all; and finally the hard cartilaginous gullets of beef, after the tongues had been cut out. All this ingenious mixture was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something. Anybody who could invent a new imitation had been sure of a fortune from old Durham, said Jurgis' informant; but it was hard to think of anything new in a place where so many sharp wits had been at work for so long;--Ch. 9

Impoverished Lithuanian immigrants the Rudkus family are wage slaves to the Chicago meat-packing industry, working in appalling conditions under non-existent or unsafe sanitary practices. Sinclair immersed himself in the community of these people and his muckraking exposé details the shocking methods employed in procuring 'human grade' meat products. Harshly critical of the capitalist industrialist system, it led to meat inspection legislation and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Sinclair personally sent a copy of his book to then American President Theodore Roosevelt. Often ranked with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in regard to its social impact, The Jungle was highly lauded by other such esteemed literary figures Jack London, H.L. Mencken, and George Bernard Shaw. Unlike Samuel Hopkins Adams's critical examination of the patent medicine industry The Great American Fraud (1906) which also contributed to the formation of the Pure Food and Drug Act, Sinclair's most famous work remains in print over a century after its initial publication, with chapters that were suppressed at that time.

Sinclair won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943 for his novel Dragon's Teeth (1942) about the Nazi takeover of Germany. It is the third of eleven novels in Sinclair's World's End series following globe-trotter Lanny Budd and his adventures of derring-do. In Dragon's Teeth he acts as secret agent, infiltrates Hitler's most intimate circle, and reports back to President Roosevelt. Sinclair caused much controversy and change in his lifetime, widely read in North and South America, Europe, and Russia. As Georg Brandes notes in his Introduction to Sinclair's King Coal (1917) " . . . . Sinclair is one of the not too many writers who have consecrated their lives to the agitation for social justice, and who have also enrolled their art in the service of a set purpose."

Upton Beall Sinclair was born on 20 September 1878 in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of Priscilla Harden and Upton Beall Sinclair. His father struggled with various sales jobs, but his alcoholism got in the way of many of his ventures. It was a tumultuous childhood for young Upton. At the age of fourteen he enrolled in the City College of New York, writing dime novels and stories for magazines and newspapers to help pay for his tuition. It was here that he became acquainted with and embraced the Socialist Party's politics. Sinclair writes in his Introduction to The Journal of Arthur Stirling (1903);

I do not know if "The Valley of the Shadow" means to you what it means to me; I do not know if it means anything at all to you. But I have sought long and far for these words, to utter an all but unutterable thought.

When you walk in the forest you do not count the lives that you tread into nothingness. When you rejoice with the springtime you do not hear the cries of the young things that are choked and beaten down and dying. When you watch the wild thing in your snare you do not know the meaning of the torn limbs, and the throbbing heart, and the awful silence of the creature trapped. When you go where the poor live, and see thin faces and hungry eyes and crouching limbs, you do not think of these things either.

But I, reader--I dwell in the Valley of the Shadow.

After graduating from Columbia University, the Socialist journal Appeal to Reason commissioned him to write about stockyard workers. Armed with a pen and camera he spent weeks researching; The Jungle was first serialised in Appeal to Reason in 1905. Readers avidly followed it, but publishers were wary of the explosive content. After a handful of rejections, Doubleday published it in 1906. Sinclair wrote many more novels and plays, but none reached the popularity that The Jungle did. Encouraged by its success, Sinclair founded a socialist commune in Englewood, New Jersey, but fire destroyed it a year later.

In the year 1900 Sinclair married Meta Fuller with whom he had a son, David (1901-2007), renowned research physicist. Meta left her husband in 1911 for poet Harry Kemp and she and Sinclair were soon divorced. In 1913 Sinclair married his second wife, author Mary Craig Kimborough (1883-1961). They moved to California and there both became actively involved in politics, organising the socialist reform movement End Poverty in California (EPIC). He ran for Democratic nominee for Governor of California in 1934 amidst roiling controversy. After a happy marriage of almost fifty years, Mary suffered a stroke and died in 1961. At the age of eighty-three, Sinclair was married a third time, to Mary Elizabeth Willis (1882-1967). Upton Sinclair died on 25 November 1968, and now rests in the Rock Creek Cemetery of Washington, District of Columbia, United States.

Other works by Upton Sinclair include:

Springtime and Harvest (1901), later republished as King Midas (1901),
Prince Hagen (play, 1903)
The Second-Story Man (play, 1903)
Manassas (1904)
A Captain of Industry (1906)
The Metropolis (1908)
The Moneychangers (1908)
Samuel the Seeker (1909)
Love's Pilgrimage (1911)
The Machine (play, 1911)
The Naturewoman (play, 1912)
Sylvia's Marriage (1914)
The Profits of Religion (1918)
Jimmie Higgins (1919)
100%: The Story of a Patriot (1920)
They Call Me Carpenter (1922)
Oil! (1927),
Roman Holiday (1931),
American Outpost (1932),
The Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America (1937),
The Return of Lanny Budd (1953), Sinclair's final novel in his World's End series, and
The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962).

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

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