Delving Into The Jungle

Since its first publication in 1906, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle has stirred generations of readers to outrage. It is the story of an economic system that destroys Jurgis Rudkus and his family, treating them no better than the cattle that are slaughtered and vivisected in the book’s most horrific and memorable scenes. The novel is not only taught in English classes, as a powerful example of early-twen-tieth century naturalism, but it is also a perennial favorite of sociology teachers, who use it to convey just how terrible conditions for workers were a hundred years ago and how dangerous the threat of food contamination really was before corporate greed was put in check by government regulation. The Jungle is a rare example of a work of fiction that is so true to its source and so powerfully written that it changed the course of government regulation: it is generally credited with getting the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act passed. The story starts with a family of Lithuanian immigrants moving into the Packingtown district of Chicago, hoping to find a decent place to live and to find jobs to support themselves. They are foiled at these basic requirements: everything costs more than it should, especially since real estate agents and merchants take advantage of their ignorance, and work, when it is available, is brutal and degrading. The book’s first half is packed with the gruesome descriptions that have become its legacy, with details of diseased meat shoveled off dirty floors into sausage grinders and sick or injured people preparing meat. In the second half, Jurgis Rudkus, having lost his house and family, strikes out on his own, nearly starving on the streets, unable to find work. Stepping into a meeting-hall to get warm, he is enlightened to the Socialist Party’s philosophy, and he goes on to read more and attend more meetings, confident that socialism is the solution to so-ciety’s problems. By the end, the character of Jurgis is just barely significant, as his function is limited to just occasional agreement with the speeches that the author presents for the readers.

By Agatha Hawkings