The Jungle: A close examination
There are a million people, men and women and children, who share the curse of the wage-slave; who toil every hour they can stand and see, for just enough to keep them alive; who are condemned till the end of their days to monotony and weariness, to hunger and misery, to heat and cold, dirt and disease, to ignorance and drunkenness and vice! And then turn them over to me, and gaze upon the other side of the picture. There are a thousand-ten thousand, maybe-who are master of these slaves, who own their toil. They do nothing to earn what they receive, they do not even have to ask for it-it comes to them of itself, their only care is to dispose of it. They live in such palaces, they riot in luxury and extravagance-such as no words can describe, as makes the imagination reel and stagger, makes the soul grow sick and faint. (363)
The Jungle, considered Upton Sinclairs greatest achievement, shows the deplorable conditions in meat packing plants, as well as moving the reader on the path to socialism, something in which he truly believed in. In order for Sinclair to give accurate details in the book, he spent over a year researching and writing about the conditions on the meat packing plants in Chicago. This first hand experience allowed for Sinclair to see the plight of the “wage-slaves.” At the turn of the century, no laws were in place to protect the workers or to regulate the shipment of meat.
The Jungle was originally serialized in a socialist newspaper, entitled Appeal to Reason. When the book was finally published in book form, it instigated a pure food movement, which brought about the Pure Food and Drug Act. George P. Brett said the following of The Jungle:
“The Jungle will set forth the breaking of human hearts by a system which exploits the labor of men and women for profit. It will shake the poplar heart and blow the roof off the industrial tea-kettle. What socialism will be in this book, will, of course, be imminent; it will be reveled by incidents-there will be no sermons. (Bloodworth 48)
This is very truthful, as it accurately describes how Sinclair leads the reader towards socialism through the various literary aspects in the novel- such as characters, conflict, point of view, theme, and style.
In the novel, Jurgis sees that everyone that comes into contact with capitalism becomes greedy and materialistic, even himself. Jurgis sees the deceitfulness used by the political machine in the packing yards of Chicago. When the elections come around every year, he is bribed to vote under many different pseudo-names, and is paid four dollars, equal to a week worth of work. Also, Jurgis is paid five dollars to pick up paychecks for imaginary city workers. Later in the novel, Jurgis becomes involved in the political machine. He finds that he becomes one of the henchmen for the political powers in the packing yards. After he gets put in jail, he is forced to buy is way out, which costs him everything he has. After he is forced to live like a vagabond again, he feels an inadequacy about his life, an empty feeling. He misses how he used to live extravagantly, and wonders how he could have lived without it.
Another character that finds the evils of capitalism is Marija, who is forced in a life of prostitution and drug use due to the competitive nature of capitalism. When she first tries to get a job in the meat plants, she needs to bribe the forewomen in order to get the job. Also while Marija is trying to support the family without Jurgis, she is led to a life of prostitution because it is the only job she can obtain. While living in the brothel, she acquires a morphine addiction. While she lives in the brothel, she finds that living there was unexpected consequences, such as having to pay for living there, which amounts to basically the entire paycheck. She soon finds out that she cannot support her family due to the capitalist mindset in Chicago. She figures that being a whore is a better than having to starve and live on the street. While Marija is in the brothel, Tita Elizbieta and her teenage children are forced to attain jobs to support themselves, but it is a feeble attempt, as they are forced to move in with friends of theirs. In the final chapter, Marija gives up all hope of trying, as apparent in the following quote: “No, ” she answered, “Ill never stop. Whats the use of talking about it? Ill stay here till I die, I guess.” (393) Hence, due to the evils of capitalism, characters in the novel show the entire social system to prove that all that come in contact with capitalism are brutalized and corrupted.
In addition to the characters, conflict plays a role in the moving of the reader along the path towards socialism. Man verse man is a prevalent conflict in the book because it shows the proletarians against the gentry. This conflict has been around since the beginning of time, from the Egyptian pharos and slaves to the industrial wage-slaves to their masters. As Moses was the savior for the enslaved Egyptian slaves, socialism is portrayed as the savior to the working class people. It is said that socialism has its deepest roots in the Bible. According to William Ebenstein, “Early Christians rejected the concept of mine and thine and practiced socialism in their everyday lives” (239). These lower class workers are being treated as if they were monkeys, or maybe some sort of super intelligent dogs. The bosses of these people are heartless, cruel people that have no soul. When a man was scalded by a hot, smoldering piece of steel, he received no compensation, and he didnt even get his job back when he was healed.
Jurgis and the proletarians are being held down in low paying, long hour jobs, by a small group of rich men. These men practice something called vertical integration, in which they can control every aspect of the industrial process. An example is the meatpacking industry, which includes shipment of the hogs, the slaughtering of the hogs, the packing of the meat, and even the occasional bribing of a government mean inspector. According to many socialist, including Sinclair, large things such as plants and mills should be either divided into small units so that work can coincide in a single person or a family, or collective ownership (Ebenstein 242). Under this sort of economy, people such as Jurgis and Marija would be able to control there own destiny, not a greedy wage-master. One is forced to believe that if Jurgis and Marija were able to control there own destiny they might have succeeded.
Also, man verse society is a prevalent conflict due to the struggle of Jurgis and the competitive nature of capitalism. The struggle seemed to be on side of Jurgis in the beginning of the novel, but latter in the novel he is unable to get a job. In the beginning of the book Sinclair writes “Ona had a husband who could solve all problems, and who was so big and strong!” (23) He is later transformed to weaker man. When he first set out to get a job, he was quickly distinguished from the others due to his massive size. But after a while his massive build beings to deteriorate after his bedridden injury. His is then unable to find work, and must rely on the women and children of the family. Due to the large number of people looking for work is looked over many times. The massive number of people makes it almost impossible to find employment.
In addition, the point of view of the author helps move the reader to socialism. The third person omniscient narrator summarizes most of the events in the novel. This narrator is used during Sinclairs summary narrative. During the summary narrative, he simply does not dramatize anything. A prime example of this is when Sinclair describes the process of killing hogs and making them into a variety of products. He also d…..escribes the policemen and strikebreakers in a vague way. Through this technique, Sinclair is able to show the effects of capitalism through the eyes of a variety of people using a god-like narrator. This mix of views helps to strengthen his socialist beliefs in the novel.
The other narrator expounds upon certain events that occur in the novel. This narrator is like an aside in a play; it is just like Sinclair stepped into the story to deliver a message to the reader. This narrator is used when Sinclair feels that a traditional narrator is not enough. The narrator is used in muckraking passages to show things that Jurgis couldnt possibly know, such as articles in newspapers. This is evident in when Sinclair writes:
If he had been able to buy all the newspapers of the United States the next morning, he might have discovered that his beer hunting exploit was being pursued by some two score millions of people, and had served as a text for editorials in half the staid and solemn businessmens newspapers in the land. (321)
This shows that the second narrator comes along at certain points to inform the reader of what is happening to Jurgis and the world around him in the meantime.
During the course of the novel, Sinclair puts forth a plethora of themes, some major and some minor. One major theme is materialism and unyielding competition have made 1900s America into a metaphorical jungle. Theme is generally regarded as the main way to put across an idea, so Sinclair uses this to its full extent. When Sinclair describes the thousands of people waiting to just get a chance at getting employment, he shows that the naturalistic nature of the packing yards. He shows that the people have little chance of getting employment, or even surviving in the brutal jungle of Chicago. These naturalistic lives are something that Sinclair wishes do to away with, and replace it with democratic socialism. With democratic socialism, the big business would be obsolete; instead families or individuals would run regulated versions of the big business (Ebenstein 242). So under socialism, Sinclair argues that the naturalism would be gone because the common people have a chance for survival. So during the course of the novel, Sinclair uses theme to illustrate his point.
Another major theme that ties into the previous theme is giving the business to the public and running them democratically. This was probably Sinclairs main theme in the novel. This theme was enforced mainly in the second half of the book. In the beginning, there was very few reference to socialism, the first of which is a wise old women, who is a socialist, revealed to them that they were hoodwinked by the company that sold them their house. As the book continued, the socialism was brought up more and more. The last chapter shows that not even all socialists agree on everything. The best example of this is the socialist orator and Comrade Ostrinski. These two combine to give Jurgis his first taste of socialism. One could argue that this is the turning point in the novel because it changed the entire mentality of the novel. The tone changed from hopelessly depressed in the first four fifths of the book, to hopefully optimistic in the last fifth of the book. After socialism made serious gains in Chicago and other areas of the country, Sinclair foreshadows bright futures for socialism in the future. The writing of Sinclair in the chapter and others, show that he took a kind of nonfiction approach to writing the novel. He used statistics to show the vote increases in a variety of places, and on page 116, Sinclair even footnotes a United States Live Stock Ordinance. Sinclair intended to use statistics because people cannot dispute facts. The nonfictional approach Sinclair uses helps him to show why socialism is better that the existing governmental system.
In addition to the major themes, Sinclair incorporates many minor themes as well as major themes. One minor theme is those on the bottom rung of the social ladder are literal wage slaves who do the bidding for their master. This is evident many times in the novel, such as when Ona is forced to have sex with her boss, Phil Conner, a boss in the political machine. When Jurgis gets angry and beats Conner, no one listens to his side of the story because the judge and Conner are both involved in the deception of the people, and is sent up the river. The intent of Sinclair in this incident is showing the insensitivity of the leaders of the political machine and big business. This minor theme relates to the major theme of competition and greed have made America into a jungle
Another minor theme used by Sinclair is industrial capitalism is an efficient, impersonal killing machine that has absolutely no regard for human life. This can be shown the brutal treatment of the people that work in the plant. Sinclair writes:
Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer-men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor, for the odor of the fertilizer-man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards; and for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting-sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durhams Pure Leaf Lard! (120)
This shows the incredible danger that the workers put them selves in everyday just to try and make a living and with no sympathy from the greedy, money hungry boss. In addition to the themes, Sinclair uses figurative language.
Sinclairs figurative language use is used mostly in metaphors and similes. When Sinclair uses similes and metaphors, he usually compares the character to a type of animal. One example of this is comparing Jurgis to a wounded bull and comparing Conner to a great beast. Both of these help to contribute to the jungle-type atmosphere that Sinclair has created through figurative language. Through these metaphors and similes, Sinclair makes the powerful people in the world see as the hunters in the jungle, and the lower class people are shown as being the hunted. This depicts the power of the ruling class over the plebeians, and the reader starts to feel the plight of the workers through the metaphors and similes used by Sinclair.
Also, Sinclair is a master at sensory details. He makes the reader feel like he is in the story. He uses olfactory imagery to show the awful smell given off by the dump, the auditory imagery to show the sound of the instruments at the wedding. He uses visual imagery the most, however. When Sinclair describes the slaughtering process, he elaborates upon every detail. He makes the reader feel that he is there watching the hogs actually get killed. His reason for describing every detail is to show the reader exactly what happens, and to make the reader feel that they are actually there, watching the events unfold.
In conclusion, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was written to show the goodness of socialism and the evils of capitalism, in addition to show the plight of the workers in the packing yards of Chicago. Due to the graphic nature of this book, it instigated many reforms, most notably the immediate pure food reform. It also brought forth many regulates for workers, such as child labor laws and forty hour work weeks. In this novel, Sinclair brings the reader along the path to socialism using a variety of techniques, such as characters, conflict, point of view, theme and style. These help Sinclair write one of the greatest proletarian novels of all time. William Bloodworth, Jr. writes that “few readers-and not very many American writers-could ignore what he had done.”(64)