Book Reviews

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (What to think about it?)

TheJungleSinclair
Have any of you read the book or had to read it? What did you think about it? I personally thought it was ok but I didn’t really like it overall. The Jungle has been a book which many now read in High School and College settings. Sinclair wrote this book in 1906 in order to accomplish several things. Most people falsely believe that the primary intent of writing this book was a means of pointing out the bad working conditions found during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Although it is most definitely true that this was one of the intents of Sinclair it is actually not the first and main one. Sinclair wanted much more, to help pass the Pure Food and Drug act of 1906 as well as the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Sinclair also had the intention of using this book as a means of promoting Socialism which actually makes up a larger part of the book, than the actual description of the bad working conditions, which only amount to about a dozen or more pages.Here is a review of the paper I wrote for class not to long ago and I think it does a good job in explaining in depth what the book is about. Overall I thought it was OK. Sinclair’s book is not horrible, it is grammatical adequate and is an interesting read for most part but based on the whole content I thought that it was not that good either. The Jungle serves more as Socialism propaganda more than anything else and also many of the working conditions which he expresses are over exaggerated. Here is the full review:
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The Jungle: Its purpose and consequences

 

The book The Jungle by Upton Sinclair has shown many aspects of Post-Industrial society. Upton Sinclair touches upon many of these aspects such as the unsanitary and generally hard working conditions, as well as various struggles for recent Immigrants. Sinclair further mentions aspects such as the prevalence of using child labor. Profoundly the Jungle is most popular for describing the unsanitary and unhealthy aspects of meat during that time period. After all one of Sinclair’s desired action was for the passage of government regulation and the passage of both the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) as well as the Meat Inspection Act in 1906. Furthermore as you read the Jungle you will clearly see towards the end that the real reason why Upton Sinclair wrote the book in the first place was as a clear call towards Socialism and the changing of the current social system.

There is no doubt that there were many hardships that industrial workers faced during this economic period. After all it is true as Sinclair and even Nash often state “What workers shared in common was a very long working day- usually 10 hours a day, six days a week- and unhealthy dangerous, and uncomfortable workplaces.”(Nash 532) Sinclair himself states in the Jungle

“The men who worked on the killing beds would come to reek with foulness, so that you can smell one of them fifty feet away; there was simply nothing as keeping decent, the most careful man gave it up in the end and wallowed in uncleanliness.” (Sinclair, 32) Sinclair also gives some descriptions which seem pretty dubious such as when he talks about “some workers falling into the vats and being turned into Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard. (Sinclair, 102)

It was specifically through doubtful statements such as the last one stated above regarding various workers falling and turning into Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard which caused many who read the Jungle to be outraged. The reason is that there was little to no evidence proving that these and similar statements were true. President Theodore Roosevelt for example wrote of Sinclair in a letter and stated “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.”(Letter, 340)

 

Similarly in describing the overall conditions of hard labor conditions, Sinclair also makes brief talk regarding the use of child labor. This is true when in the Jungle through various economic setbacks many of the children need to get a job of their own. Sinclair describes some of the working conditions for little Stanislovas when he writes “Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, it was fated that he should stand upon a certain square foot of floor from seven in the morning until noon, and again from half-past twelve till half-past five, making never a motion and thinking never a thought, save for the setting of lard cans. (Sinclair, 75-76). Later in the book many of the other children themselves have to go about selling newspapers and finding other means of providing for the family.

As bad as the working conditions were for many children, the reality is that for many families their children were the best and only means of providing for the household. Sinclair describes the situation when he states “There were families that had no possible means of support except the children, and the law provided them no other way of getting a living. Very often a man could get no work in Packingtown for months, while a child could go and get a place easily. (Sinclair, 72). Nash similarly writes in the textbook The American People “A working class family’s standard of living thus often depended on the work of children. The laborer whose annual earnings amounted to only $384 depended on his 13 year old son, not his wife, to earn an extra $196, critical to the family’s welfare.” (Nash, 532)
Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906

 

The most popular topic which gained the public’s attention was in regards to the conditions themselves of the meatpacking industry. This includes the unsanitary conditions which many of the meat was produced and packed. Surprisingly the description of the unsanitary conditions of meat in the Jungle did not take up many ages to fill, maybe about fifteen in total. The reason as we will see in the next paragraph is that surprisingly this was not one of the main purpose of Sinclair writing the book. However he does give us a pretty good description in general of some of the scenario involving the meat industry. Sinclair for example states ” There would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white… there would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs.” (Sinclair, 136)

 

Many readers of the Jungle do not realize that one of the main reasons for Sinclair writing the book, wasn’t regarding the description of the meat industry but rather as a means of socialist propaganda. This is most easily seen in the last two chapters of the book. This is easily seen in Jurgis’ admiration for the speech given by the Socialist in a large portion of Chapter 28. This is even more visible by the description which Sinclair gives us in the last chapter describing socialism. It is clearly seen that Sinclair wanted to alter the current social order as a means to move towards socialism. Sinclair for example writes “Was it government? The purpose of government was the guarding of property-rights, the perpetuation of ancient force and modern fraud. Or was it marriage? Marriage and prostitution were two sides of one shield, the predatory man’s exploitation of the sex-pleasure. The difference between them was a difference of class. If a woman had money she might dictate her own terms: equality, a life contract, and the legitimacy—that is, the property-rights—of her children. If she had no money, she was a proletarian, and sold herself for an existence.” (Sinclair, 327). Similarly Sinclair writing about the “evils” of religion further mentioned “The destiny of civilization would be decided in one final death struggle between the Red International and the Black, between Socialism and the Roman Catholic Church; while here at home, ‘ the Stygian midnight of American evangelicalism.” (Sinclair, 328)

As most of the Public read the Jungle they often rejected Sinclair’s Socialism but rather often only focused on the bad working conditions, as well as the unsanitary aspects of the meat industry, which moved Sinclair to say many years later ‘I aimed for the public’s heart and hit it in the stomach instead’. Similarly part of the legacy is that it did after all contribute to the passage of both the Pure Food and Drug act of 1906 as well as the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. To Sinclair’s dismay, he later learned the hard lesson that the big meat packers wanted government regulation of the meat industry the whole time. This might seem hard to grasp at first, but when you study economic market forces you begin to understand why this is the case. First and foremost there was already government regulation before the Jungle was ever written. Sinclair himself often describes the already existence of government inspectors throughout the book.

The main reason that the big meat packers wanted government involvement in the industry is that it drove down competition and gave them an advantage over smaller meat producing companies. The reason for this is that it created barriers to market entry. “Government inspections added a large fixed operating cost of producers due to the administrative overhead. While this may sound counter-intuitive, this effectively serves as a large barrier to entry into the meat packing business.” (Exposing, 3) This reality makes it hard for the smaller packers precisely because it makes them unable to absorb the fixed cost and thus makes them run out of business by the large corporations due to the fact that the smaller guys need to raise the price of their meat higher to account for the increased cost of government regulation. Once Sinclair realized the above mentioned reality he “opposed the law because he saw it for what it really was-boon for the big meatpackers” (Ideas and Consequences, 3)

Bibliography:

Nash, Gary, et. al., The American People. New York: Pearson, 1995.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Signet Classics, 1906
The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt,” 8 vols, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951-54, vol. 5, p. 340.)
Libertarian News. 2012. Meat Packing Lies: Exposing The Fiction of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  Retrieved from Database
https://www.libertariannews.org/2012/11/15/meat-packing-lies-exposing-the-fiction-of-upton-sinclairs-the-jungle/
FEE. 1994.  Ideas and Consequences: Of Meat and Myth. Retrieved from Database
http://fee.org/freeman/detail/ideas-and-consequences-of-meat-and-myth

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