The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was first published in 1906 after several rejections. In his book, Sinclair brought to light a number of issues affecting the American society during the beginning of the 20th century. The issues range from extreme poverty, corruption that was deeply rooted, a lack of social support from the government, poor living and working conditions among others that form the themes projected by the book. The Main character is an immigrant named Jurgis Rudkus, who moved to the USA together with his wife and extended family to pursue the American dream. The issues portrayed by Sinclair in the book are brought forward by what happens to Jurgis family; the Jungle was the result of a seven week investigation of the Chicago stock yard exposing a multitude abuses that were being mete on the middle class and in particular the immigrants (Van Horn, Schaffer 495-501 & Chastain 438-444).
During that time the society and in particular the government of the USA refuted the existence of such issues as portrayed by Sinclair because the issues were indeed damaging to the greatest capitalist state in the world at that time. The image of the USA was good; business was good despite the suffering of the middle class/ workers in the society. One of the industries highlighted is the meat packing industry in Chicago. After the publication of the book the meat industry in the USA was said to have experienced a drop in foreign sales. Therefore the issues highlighted became the basis of many protests and political campaigns at the time and legislation were put in place due to public demand mainly because of the rotten that had been exposed within the Chicago Stock yard. Upton Sinclair was described as a communist of varying degrees but the issues he highlighted in this book affected the whole society communist or not therefore prompting the then government to take necessary action in order to bring the industry into scrutiny and to improve the various aspects as depicted (Bloom 89-95).
Immigration and the issues affecting immigrants are clearly brought up in this book. To begin with the main character Jurgis and his family are immigrants from Lithuania. In the book it’s said that they came to the USA in pursuit of the good life. They came in America where one can work had and see the benefits of their hard work literally. America to them was therefore the proverbial land of milk and honey; here the family knew they could depend on Jurgis who could be able to work and support the whole family.
In America they are promised high wages a good life better tan the one they had in Lithuania. America to them is therefore a land of promise and hope. Here a lot of false hope and naivety can be seen on the part of Jurgis who is described as a naïve but optimistic man who has a high sense of personal integrity. Soon after wards he come face to face to the reality that is the capitalist America. To begin with they make a lot of wrong decisions due to the fact that they are naïve and new to America secondly they end up being conned and all their money gets stolen by unscrupulous Dealers who target such families that have some money but don’t have the experience of the real America. This the author has used to depict the fallacy that is the American dream. The image that America portrays out to the rest of the world is that of hope and stability but the reality is anything but. In the case of Jurgis and his family, they come face to face with all the ills that meet the immigrant who has no means of survival. They even fall pray to the people with the resources and gradually but surely become what has been described and a ‘wage slave’ (Van Horn, Schaffer 495-501). This family therefore ends up being poor and derelict because they are immigrants and poor. Sinclair has clearly brought this to the fore by describing in detail the issues that the Jurgis family goes through due to the fact that they are immigrants. Soon after wards the Lithuanian family that carried itself with high moral standards falls prey to the evils of the society just to make ends meet. The issue of immigration has been of concern in the USA for quite some time; this is quite contradicting considering that America was formed by immigrants from Europe. The lack of a clear government has been blamed for all this issues as Sinclair depicts the rot in the society. In this case it was the society that exploits the immigrants and not the government and the lack therefore of the available resources (Bloom 89-95). Sinclair goes to great lengths to paint a clear picture of this society. He in his book doesn’t attack the American dream but rather blames the lack of morals and the disintegration of the family to show a belief that capitalism and the sense of individualism is wrong and to blame for the problems the immigrants faced at time.
Living and Working Conditions
The second portrayed theme is the living and working conditions. This is directly linked to poverty on a number of levels. To begin with, the plight of the middle class is clearly portrayed by the poor living conditions and the lack of various social amenities. The link to poverty comes in when you look at the working conditions that Jurgis has to endue and the wage that he receives. That is why they are called the wage slaves because they end up doing anything for the little money that they receive. Working conditions can be portrayed but the Chicago Stock yard and the meat plant. The workers are clearly neglected and the authorities can’t do anything about it because they are corrupt to the core; instead of ensuring that the plant is clean and that the workers needs are as per standard they take bribes for themselves. The conditions described are simply bad. Living conditions are support by the presence of public social facilities that are meant to fill the gap created by the emergence of class. Such Amenities include schools and hospitals. To depict the horrible living conditions, Sinclair vividly describes the death of his wife Ona during child birth because he can’t afford taking her to a hospital where she can be taken care of. The death of his wife and later of his son who drowns in mud in the streets clearly breaks Jurgis spirit and he moves away from the city to the rural community in the USA. Here he still faces the same hardships as jobs are hard to find and the immigrants are still exploited (Sinclair, Degrave 60-80).
The theme of sanitation is depicted clearly when Sinclair describes the death of Jurgis’ young son. The sanitation is so bad that a newly born child can literally drown in the mud. This depicts the neglect by the authorities and in effect the leaders further showing the pathetic living conditions that the poor had to face in the USA. They were kept like cattle in the stock yard; exposed to all manner of problems most of which could be solved like the sanitation. Secondly sanitation can be portrayed by the conditions of the stock yard and the meat packing company. In his book Sinclair describes the plant as dirty and neglected; workers could fall into the grinder and they could be canned together with the lard for the market. This issues as portrayed in the book could latter provoke the public leading to unrest and social protest. Eventually the proper legislation would be put in place (Sinclair, Degrave 60-80).
Corruption is the other theme portrayed in the Jungle. The meat packing industry was described as derelict. There was no order and therefore anything went as long as the right people were bribed. In the book, the industry was supposed to slaughter healthy animals and in effected make sausages and other meat products but this was not the case. The sausages were made by a potato product that had no food value at all and the animals were fed whiskey malt that rendered them sickly and unfit to eat. But still the company continued to run despite all this problems within the industry. Sinclair goes further to say that the animals were kept in very bad conditions despite the fact that there was an official who was supposed to over see that the animals were kept in neat conditions. The animals died in transit and this did not stop the industry from processing them. All this depict the deeply rooted corruption such that the officials are not worried about what people eat; it seems that they forgot that they too would eventually have to eat the same products they failed to over see (Carrol 252-270).
In effect the Jungle has tried to show the evils of a capitalist society that has done everything to subject the working class/ middle class to every social evil known to man. Sinclair is described as a communist who tried to influence the society and show the evils of capitalism but the message failed to impact he people at the time accordingly. The Jungle puts into perspective the said society by pointing out the various issues the Jurgis family faced having left the State of Lithuania then a communist state.
In conclusion, the Jungle is an interesting description of the capitalist tendencies of the USA. To do this the Jungle describes the life of an immigrant who comes into the USA in pursuit of the American dream only to find that the dream is false and only applies to the few who are described as rich (owners of the resources). All in all from the jungle we can draw several conclusions that affect us s human beings today. First is the fact that the society is only safe from evils if we all do our part accordingly. That is by ensuring the proper laws are followed to the letter, secondly that we are all responsible for our leadership and consequently for what the leadership provides to us as the society.