January 19, 2011

The Jungle

Title: The Jungle
Author: Upton Sinclair
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classics
Pages: 396
Genre: Political Fiction/Classic

The purpose of this book was to expose, in the words of Upton Sinclair, "the inferno of exploitation of the typical American factory worker at the turn of the 20th Century."  Undoubtedly, the book did have an effect on the meatpacking industry, but not in the manner Sinclair wanted.  Theodore Roosevelt was president at the time.  His view of Sinclair:  "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."  Despite this, Roosevelt sent two men into the meatpacking factories to find that the conditions were absolutely revolting, unsanitary and unbearable.  As a result,  the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 were passed.

The jungle begins with a family of eager and excited Lithuanian immigrants who arrive in Chicago in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness in the early 1900's.  Despite the many unemployed in the area at the time, the able bodied find work at Packing-town, a large slaughterhouse and meatpacking factory.  The family spends their savings on a down payment for a home.  They soon come to find that they were swindled in the purchase of the home.  From this point on, the family struggles with wage slavery, horrid working conditions, starvation, freezing cold, injuries and even death.  Family members run away; jobs are lost; morality loses its prestige becoming a jungle of individuals fighting for survival.

Real life is a continuous struggle.  Some struggle more than others.  The story of struggle in this book is not to be easily forgotten, but if pondered may be revealed to be an exaggeration.  First, the book, as stated by the author was created to promote an ideal.  That reveals a bias.  Second, when someone speaks in extremes, they reveal themselves to exaggerate.  This book is nothing but extremes.  There are few if any moderate characters (rich or poor, strong or weak), no moderate plot, no moderate settings and no moderate thoughts.  A portion of this book is not storyline, but instead a sort of socialist manifesto.  The manifesto states, "but imagine the problem of providing the food supply of our nation once taken in hand systematically and rationally, by scientists!"  It also predicts that if controlled by scientists, "the exact requirements of the community known," and "the exactly needful number to each place."  Be weary of statements that offer promises on something this impossible to fulfill.  Small communities cannot master this idea without disturbances and it remains only impossible to be used on a grander scale.