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.

Recent Forum Posts on Upton Sinclair

The Lanny Budd Series

I've become interested in the Lanny Budd series, and I have started to read A World to Win, and I might read the others eventually. Are their any recommendations for my next read in the series?


The Jungle

Can someone help with grammar? Any additional points or comments are appreciated. thanks! 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.


Upton Sinclair Must Reads--

As a reader I like to go through various author's works. I want to start on Upton Sinclair, but outside of The Jungle and Oil! I'm not sure which others to read. Suggestions? Thanks--


Upton Sinclair's Oil! and the movie

The film There Will Be Blood is based upon this 1927 Upton Sinclair novel. It is in fact based very loosely, as these two stories are nearly as different as night and day. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with this, since films and novels are very different forms of expression. It's perfectly legitimate to take the kernel of one story and turn it into something completely different. Still, it's interesting to look into the differences, and speculate on why the filmmaker made the changes he did. The film is the story of an evil man, lacking in humanity and motivated by greed. His name is Daniel Plainview; he has an adopted son, whom he uses as a kind of prop, a cute accessory when dealing with people in order to foster the illusion that he's a decent fellow. In Upton Sinclair's book, the character is named J.A. Ross (the name Plainview appears only once in the book, as an alias Ross uses in a telegram) and he is very fond of his boy. The novel is in fact written from the son's perspective, and it is the relationship between J.A. Ross and J.A. Ross Jr., (nicknamed "Bunny") that is the heart of the novel. There is a great deal of love in the relationship, tempered by an amicable difference of opinion, and ultimately rendered tragic by a fundamental difference in temperament. Bunny is "soft". His sympathies lie with the oil workers and their families, the poor landowners who are fooled into selling their lots to sharp developers, and with the small-time operators who inevitably fall by the wayside in the struggle with the big ones. Dad is a hard-headed business man, a successful oil operator who understands that deals must be made and palms greased in order to get the oil out of the ground. A man would be a fool to show his hand when he suspects there is oil under a rancher's property. If he doesn't grab up the pipe and timber he needs for wells straight away, his competitors will do so, and will freeze him out, so he offers the pipe or lumber dealer a percentage, off the books, to sweeten the deal. Ross can't wait around for the county to pave a road to his site; time is money, so he puts some of that money into the hands of the appropriate official, in order to get the job done. After all, the official earns but a pittance with his county salary, so think of it not as a bribe but as fair compensation for all the extra time and work he will have to put in. Dad is only doing what all the other oil men do, and he is by their standard unusually honest: he keeps his word and he's careful not to tell an outright lie. Bunny however is troubled by all this. As much as he loves his dad, he can't help but see these things as cheating, kickbacks, and bribery. He wonders at his father's motivations, which truly have nothing to do with greed; J.A. Ross Sr. cares little about money other than as something they'll need to get the next oil field into production. He is committed to the job at hand, which is to get oil out of the ground. America needs oil, that is reason enough for him. The father in turn wonders at this odd son of his, who can't help but look into things, and trouble himself over things that can't be changed. He keeps hoping his son will outgrow it, and keeps on loving him when he doesn't. They love each other right till the end, when Dad dies in European exile, chased out of his native California by threatened prosecution and Congressional inquiry, events that are clearly based on the actual Teapot Dome oil scandal. Besides his father, the other great attachment of Bunny's life is with his friend Paul Watkins, a labor activist, a Leftist so radicalized that he sympathizes with the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Bunny is thus torn, trying to bridge a hopeless division between his intellectual and personal life. He is a millionaire's son who believes deeply in the cause of Socialism. This, then, is the crucial difference between the book and the movie. The movie is a tale of an evil man, a purely personal evil; if there is any cause whatsoever of this evil, it lies in his sinfulness, the sins of greed and ambition. The book on the other hand is a tale of the inevitable conflict between capital and labor, a social rather than a personal issue. There is evil present in Upton Sinclair's novel, but it isn't the oil-man's evil; to quote the final line of the book, there is "...an evil Power which roams the earth, crippling the bodies of men and women, and luring the nations to destruction by visions of unearned wealth, and the opportunity to enslave and exploit labor." Evil is, in short, the Capitalist system! Upton Sinclair was of course a Progressive reformer, a socialist, and-- intellectually at least-- a Marxist. I suspect Paul Thomas Anderson wasn't about to touch any of this with a ten foot pole. Much of it would seem archaic: early twentieth-century stuff of purely historical interest. (I myself found it of great historical interest... but then maybe I'm just weird!) I can't help but wonder, though, if it's quite right to take an author's work and turn it so completely on its head. Curiously, this is a turn of events that is anticipated within the novel itself, which treats of the film industry by way of Bunny's romance with a screen star named Vee Tracy. Bunny learns from close up the film business's propensity for taking socio-economic themes and turning them into the purely individual, in effect defusing them. Bunny is horrified to learn that Vee's movie, set during the Russian Revolution, centers on a love story between a beautiful noblewoman and a dashing American secret agent. I can only wonder what Sinclair would think about seeing his call for collective action transformed on the screen into a tale of individual morality. Anything so Left-radical as Oil! is surely unmarketable these days. "Capitalists" are now called "entrepreneurs", benevolent beings virtually above criticism. It's an interesting historical-cultural drift. In his day, Upton Sinclair was a popular author, and the Progressive agenda had a widespread appeal. Oil! is a polemical work, with a clear agenda. It is schematic at times, and a bit strident. It might be called dated, but on the other hand it is perhaps invaluable for offering a glimpse into the mindsets and opinions of what was a very different era, though an era less than a century past.


The Jungle..

well, I am not sure what a new thread means... I just wanted to comment on The Jungle... not great literature, but compelling none the less... it will make a vegetarian of any reader... Upton Sinclair was evidently quite a man, very socially conscious, and political..


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