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ZoeMitchell

11thGradeHumanitiesHonors

TheJungle
TheJungle
,writtenin1905byUptonSinclair,revealsthebrutalityofAmerican
industrializationandtheterribleworkingconditionsforimmigrantsthroughthestoryof
JurgisRudkus.Thisnoveltracesthroughmorethantwoyearsofhislifebeginningwith
theethnicweddingbetweenJurgisandhistrueloveOnaLukoszaitealongwiththeir
arrivalinAmerica.JurgisimmigratedtoAmericahealthy,optimisticandfilledwith
confidence,readytoearnalivingasamodelworkerandcitizen.Thenewcouple,lured
bythepromiseoftheAmericanDream,immigratetoAmericaonlyinsteadtosuffer
unbearableexploitationsandunfairnessatthehandsofthecorporateoverlords.
Workingharderthanever,thefamilygraduallyslipsintogreaterandgreaterpoverty
eventuallylosingtheirhouse,jobsanddignity.Jurgisandhisfamilyendureand
undergohorribletragediessuchaslayoffs,industrialaccidents,malnutrition,prostitution
andforsomeofthefamily,death.
TheJungle
isaperfectexampleofthecorruptionand
artificialityofcapitalistAmericaintheearly1900s.
ImagesandtalesofsocialistAmericawithitsendlessopportunitiesforallwere
themaindrawtoimmigrantssuchasJurgis,bringingthousandslikehimselfintothe
dingy,bustlingcities.Socialismisapoliticalsystembasedaroundcollectiveownership
andademocraticcontrolofthingslikeproductionandwealth.Thegrowthofthe
SocialistmovementprimarilytookplaceinthevastheartlandoftheUnitedStatesduring
thelate19thcentury,whichatthetimewasundergoingthestrainsofindustrialization.
The19thcenturysawrapidindustrializationexpansion:betweenthe1800sand1900s,

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11thGradeHumanitiesHonors

annualincomerosefromanaverageof$200to$1,200perperson
(nber.org)
.Itwas
thisfalsefrontofsharedwealthandanonexistentclasssystemthatbroughtin
immigrantssuchasJurgistothemechanicalheartlandofAmerica.
Unfortunatelythedistributionofwealthwasgreatlyskewed1%ofthepopulation
owned54%ofthetotalwealth
(oxy.edu)
.Duringtheearly20thcentury,working
conditionswentvastlyunregulated,allowingbusinesstycoonstoexploitimmigrantsfor
cheaplabor.Thegrowingimmigrantpopulationassuredthesebusinessesthatthey
wouldalwayshavealargelaborpoolwillingtoworkforlowwages.Ifaworker
disagreedwiththepayorconditionsorwasinjuredonthejob,thereweremanyothers
willingtotakehisplace.AlthoughimmigrantscametoAmericainsearchofafair
systemthatpromisedtheevendistributionofwealth,theywerefacedwithcountless
obstaclesandoppressivecapitalism.
SinclairillustratesthisgapbetweentheprojectedAmericanDreamandrealityby
paintingagrotesquepictureofthemeatpackingindustries,describingthehardshipsthe
workersfacedinsuchconditions:Thehandsofthesemenwouldbecrisscrossedwith
cuts,untilyoucouldnolongerpretendtocountthemortotracethem.Theywouldhave
nonails,theyhadwornthemoffpullinghidestheirknuckleswereswollensothat
theirfingersspreadoutlikeafan.Thesegruesomeinjuriesputmanyoutofwork,only
tobereplacedbyanother.
SinclairusesthestoryofJurgisandthemeatpackingindustrytoillustratejust
howmanyhurdlesstoodbetweenpoorworkingmenandsuccess.Obstaclesincluding

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11thGradeHumanitiesHonors

lackofeducation,lackofinfluenceorpowerinsociety,unfamiliaritywithlegalsystems
andconstantpoverty.Sinclairshowsjusthowworkersgetstuckinterriblejobs,digging
theirowngravesdeeperanddeeper,eventuallyturningthemresentful,violentandoften
intocriminals,justbringingthemdownevenfurtherintheeconomicchain.Sinclairuses
thistopointoutthatAmericadoesinfacthaveaclasssystem,itisjustbetterdisguised
thanhereditarybasedclasssystemslikethatofLithuania.
TheJungle
containsmanyimportantsymbols,themostimportantofwhichbeing
theanimalpensandslaughterhousesofPackingtown.Sinclairusestheseinasimple,
yetdirectwaytodescribeandillustratetheplightoftheworkingclass.Wavesof
animalspassthroughPackingtowninaneverendingflow,justtobequickly
slaughtered,processedandreplacedbythousandsmore.Thisconstantabuseand
overturnisaclearmetaphorforthegenerationsofimmigrantsthatcomeintoAmerica
whoareinturnbeatendownbythecrushingcapitalistsystemuntiltheyareruinedand
worseoffthantheycame.Evenmorestartlingishowthisisaliteralrepresentationof
howworkersaretreatedandofteninjuredandkilled:asfortheothermen,whoworked
intankroomsfullofsteam,andinsomeofwhichtherewereopenvatsnearthelevelof
thefloor,theirpeculiartroublewasthattheyfellintothevatsandwhentheywere
fishedout,therewasneverenoughofthemlefttobeworthexhibiting,sometimesthey
wouldbeoverlookedfordays,tillallbutthebonesofthemhadgoneouttotheworldas
Durham'sPureLeafLard!Jurgisseeshimselfasasquealinghogbeingledto

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11thGradeHumanitiesHonors

slaughter,justoneamongthousandsfedintotheindustrialmachineofsystematic
exploitation.
Anotherimportantsymbolwithinthebookarethecansofrottenmeat.These
disgusting,putridproductsofPackingtownrepresenttheessentialcorruptionof
capitalismandthetaintedrealityoftheAmericanDream.Ontheoutside,theshinycans
areattractiveandpromisegreatthings,yetcontainputridmeatunfitforconsumption.In
thesameway,Americancapitalismpresentsafake,polishedfacadetoimmigrantsonly
torevealtherottenandcorruptsituationtheythenbecomeentangledin.
TheworldofPackingtownisverymuchlikeajungle,thestrongpreyontheweak
whileallinvolvedareengagedinabrutalfightforsurvival.Inthebook,thestrongestare
rewardedwhilelowerclasspeoplearekeptdown,unabletobreakthesurfaceofthe
projectedAmericanDream.ThenovelstitlereferstothejunglesoftheAmerican
factories,whereonlythestrongsurviveandpeopleactandgettreatedlikeanimals.
Tothemanyimmigrants,theAmericanDreampromisesthatifyouworkhard,
youcanbuildasubstantialandrewardinglifeforyouandyourfamily.Thisskewed
ideologyimpliesthattherearenodifferencesorobstaclesbetweenthepoorandthe
wealthyexceptthewillingnesstoworkforaliving.Immigrantsbelievethatiftheyare
motivatedandactasamodelworker,theywillrisethroughtheranksandtheir
predeterminedclasstothepromiselandsfueledbyAmericanindustry.

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11thGradeHumanitiesHonors

SinclairhatedtheoverwhelmingmajorityofbigbusinessthatranAmerican
industryandcapitalism.HebelievedthatAmericashouldbeasocialistnationmeaning
thattherewouldbenoclasses,equaldistributionofwealthandfairnessforall.Sinclair
usedtheexampleoftheAmericanmeatindustrytodemonstratehowthese
megabusinessescontrollednotonlythewealthofthecountry,butthelivesoftheir
workers.AlthoughSinclairhadlittleinterestintheactualworkersandthebeefindustry,
hewantedtoimprovetheoverallconditionsratherthanexposethefilthplagued
slaughterhouses.Oncereleased,thebookgainedmasspopularityandsparkeda
nationalscandalbasicallyovernight.Thenovelshugesuccesswasmostlydueinpart
tothepublicsoutrageanddisgustwiththetruthbehindtheirfoodsupply.Descriptions
suchasthesecausednationaloutrage:Therewouldbemeatstoredingreatpilesin
roomsandthewaterfromleakyroofswoulddripoverit,andthousandsofratswould
raceaboutonit.Itwastoodarkinthesestorageplacestoseewell,butamancouldrun
hishandoverthesepilesofmeatandsweepoffhandfulsofthedrieddungofrats.
Theseratswerenuisances,andthepackerswouldputpoisonedbreadoutforthem
theywoulddie,andthenrats,bread,andmeatwouldgointothehopperstogether.
SinclairendedupbeinginvitedtotheWhiteHousewhichleadtothecreationof
the1906PureFoodandDrugActandMeatInspectionAct.EventhoughSinclairsbook
ledtoarevolutioninthefoodindustry,hewasunhappythatthepublicreactedtothe
filthy,falselylabeledmeat,ignoringtheplightoftheworkers.Meatsalesdropped

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11thGradeHumanitiesHonors

sharplyandSinclairfamouslyreplied,IaimedatthepublicsheartandbyaccidentIhit
itinthestomach.

Citations
Sinclair,U.(1905).
TheJungle
.Champaign,Ill.:ProjectGutenberg.
Conlin,JosephRobert.(1969)BigBillHaywoodandtheRadicalUnion
Movement.Syracuse,N.Y.SyracuseUniversityPress
Dickstein,Morris."OnSinclair"TheChronicleReviewMay2002.Volume
48,Issue32,PageB12
"SocialismandUptonSinclair'sTheJungle."
123HelpMe.com
.30Nov
2015<
http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=162304
>.
UptonSinclair'sTheJungle:MuckrakingtheMeatPackingIndustry.(n.d.).
RetrievedNovember30,2015,from
http://www.crfusa.org/billofrightsinaction/bria241buptonsinclairsthe
junglemuckrakingthemeatpackingindustry.html
TheJungle.(n.d.).RetrievedNovember30,2015,from
https://www.powayusd.com/online/usonline/worddoc/jungle.htm

ZoeMitchell
11thGradeHumanitiesHonors