Sinclair wrote The Jungle to show the corruption of the American meatpacking industry during the early-20th century, and the troubles of the working class during this time.
By: Upton Sinclair
Sinclair wrote The Jungle to show the corruption of the American meatpacking industry during the early-20th century, and the troubles of the working class during this time. The novel portrays harsh tones poverty, lack of social programs, poor living and working conditions, and hopelessness prevalent among the working class. All of which go in hand with the deeply-rooted corruption on the part of those in power. Sinclair's observations of the state of turn-of-the-century labor were placed front and center for the American public to see, suggesting that something needed to be changed and get rid of this undesirable lifestyle. Sinclair intended it not as a work of art but as an instrument for changing people's minds. He thought of it as a good means to social justice. The novel is better judged as propaganda than as literature, although I think Sinclair’s story is also well thought out and entertaining. I really enjoyed the symbols he used to further get his point across. Including Packington, the stockyards, the cans of rotten meat and the title itself. He also included more then the main theme, which is socialism as a Remedy for the evils of capitalism, he also focused on the immigrant experience during this time and the fight for the American Dream. All of these aspects make The Jungle a great story, regardless of what Sinclair’s main purpose of writing it was.
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The slaughterhouses of Packingtown, which represent in a simple, direct way the troubles of the working class. Just like the animals at Packingtown are herded into pens, killed with impunity, made to suffer, and given no choice about their fate, so too are the thousands of poor immigrant workers forced to enter the machinery of capitalism, which grinds them down and kills them without giving them any choice. Sinclair’s idea of spiritual death refers to the workers hopelessness and sense of no way out of this lifestyle. These people truly felt trapped with nothing to look forward to or no hope for the future. It was like a living hell with this sense of misery and unhappiness. Waves of animals pass through Packingtown in a constant flow, as thousands of them are slaughtered every day and replaced by more, just as generations of immigrants are ruined by the merciless work and the oppression of capitalism and eventually replaced by new generations of immigrants. Packingtons life expectancy was very young, due to many illnesses in children and the chances of living to age 10 was rare. Sinclair is very suttle about this issue but many times it seems he was inferring it was almost better these children didn’t have to grow up and go through what their parents had to go through.
Like we talked about in class The Jungle’s most important effect was probably the passage Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, enacted in response to public outcry over the novel’s portrayal of the meat industry’s practice of selling rotten and diseased meat to clueless customers. Sinclair uses the cans of rotten and unhealthy meat to represent the essential corruption of capitalism and the hypocrisy of the American Dream. The cans seem well put together and stable but truly contain putrid meat unfit for human consumption. In the same way, American capitalism presents an attractive face to immigrants, but the America that they find is rotten and corrupt.
Sinclair refers to the sweatshops as modern day jungles. The conditions for the workers were extremely dehumanizing. They were crowded, dirty and had very poor ventilation. Sinclair did a great job illustrating the dog-eat-dog world of the packing industry and how the workers were treated no better than animals. In the jungle (the real jungle), there are no human laws and regulations. The only thing that keeps one animal from killing or eating any other animals is basic instinct. The Jungle depicts how the food industry was also lacking laws and regulations. There were no humans with morals to say, "We should not feed that to our fellow man." Ona’s boss said if she didn’t agree to giving him sexual favors he would make she her and her family would be out of work. She defends her decisions by saying “ when you have something to value you ought to sell it”, referring to her body, showing yet again a very dehumanizing aspect of the novel.
The main theme of The Jungle is truly the evil of capitalism. Every event is chosen deliberately to show a particular failure of capitalism, which is, in Sinclair’s view, inhuman, destructive, unjust, brutal, and violent. The slow destructition of Jurgis’s family, since the wedding came a sequence of bad events. They tried to own a house but they were really making payments for someone else showing again how corrupt life was. The cruel and prejudiced economic and social system demonstrates the effect of capitalism on the working class as a whole. As the immigrants, who initially possess an idealistic faith in the American Dream of hard work leading to material success, are slowly used up, tortured, and destroyed. Showing just how far these people would try to go to reach this fantasized idea of the American dream. Sinclair exposes the hypocrisy of the American Dream as the family members attempt to plug themselves into this naïve equation: virtually every aspect of the family’s experience in Packingtown runs counter to the myth of America to which they subscribe. Instead of a land of acceptance and opportunity, they find a place of prejudice and exploitation; instead of a country where hard work and morality lead to success, they find a place where only moral corruption, crime, and graft enable one to succeed materially. The novel relentlessly illustrates that capitalism is to blame for their plight and emphasizes that the characters’ individual stories are the stories of millions of people. The Jungle is not a complicated novel. Capitalism is simply portrayed as a total evil, from its greedy destruction of children to its cynical willingness to sell diseased meat to an unsuspecting public. Sinclair opts not to explore the psychology of capitalism; instead, he simply presents a long litany of the ugly effects of capitalism on the world. In Sinclair’s view, socialism is the cure for all of the problems that capitalism creates.
In conclustion, I think The Jungle is a very well told story. We spoke in class about how Sinclair “aimed for the readers hearts but hit their stomach instead”, although this may be true I think he still did a great job getting his point across. Sinclair's form of socialism dominated his writings as he attempted to provide a logical argument for what was, to him, a very personal and emotional issue. For Sinclair, the ideals of America stressed equality and brotherhood, but in all actuality, the rich did indeed get richer and the poor got poorer. There was no equality. But just as The Jungle was seen as an attack on the meatpacking industry, Sinclair's perceived views on capitalism and socialism endured more so than his actual message. I do believe Sinclair’s novel is a work of art but also an instrument for changing people's minds, which makes it a great American novel.