Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” has proved to be one of the essential books for readers who want to know more about the history of America. The book is a significant input to literature and social reform. It addresses the plight of the Chicago meatpacking industry workers by focusing on the lives of two immigrant families who came to America in anticipation of a better life during the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Throughout the whole book, the life of Jurgis Rudkus is the main center of attention.
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In contrast to the beginning of most books, “The Jungle” starts where most books end by giving the story of the wedding between two recent immigrants, Jurgis Rudkus and Ona Lukoszaite (Sinclair, 3). Even as the book starts on a festive note with the Lithuanian-style wedding, it is evident that the families of the immigrants, as well as their neighbors, are living in abject poverty.
This is because the money collected during the feast was being highly accounted for and as the festive mood ended, no one was thinking about the honeymoon, but whether the tired Ona would have enough strength to work the following day. In reality, she just could not. From then on, Jurgis’ family starts to crumble. At the Chicago stockyards, all the adult immigrants, except Ona’s stepmother, were forced to find some means of earning income. The sixty-year-old Dede Antanas, Jurgis’s father, was also included.
As the extended family endeavored to work their way to the American dream, they were tricked, robbed, beaten, taken to jail, and deceived through legal means. Furthermore, tragedy after tragedy befell them. Since they were not aware of their rights as workers, they underwent various inhuman treatments. They were put through strict working schedules and denied basic needs.
When Jurgis’ father succumbed to an infection, he had contracted while working in the pickle-room, the family was forced to give the wrong age of one of their child for him to be employed as well.
As the story is narrated both in flashback and in hurting advancing present, the family continues to work amidst these difficulties until Ona’s brother disappears without notice one day, with a significant portion of the family’s possessions. As events that are more painful take place, the family continues to compromise their values. The frail Ona dies when delivering their second child, while the first child had died in the streets and the work at the meatpacking industry becomes too gruesome for Jurgis.
Jurgis then runs away from the family for a whole year. On coming back to Chicago, he engages in criminal behavior. Thereafter, he discovers that one of the surviving members of their family, Ona’s cousin, works as a prostitute in order to bring food to the table. After this, while trying to get a warm place one night, Jurgis walks into a socialist meeting that would change his life forever.
As the captivating story ends, this meeting makes him convert into socialism. At that time, socialism was seen as the savior to the plight of the workers. Jurgis then finds another place to work and he spends the rest of his time convincing people to become socialists.
As I read “The Jungle” to find out for myself the contents of one of the intriguing books of the twentieth century, I discovered that the book has both strengths and weaknesses. I was shocked to discover that the author did not include any dialogue in the book. As I read the episodes, I had to wait for the character to develop themselves. This is because Sinclair did not attempt to inform the readers about them or infer their actions as well as their feelings.
The book lacks lyrical or rhetoric minutiae that can capture the attention of first-time readers and make them read the book with even increased interest. Having followed the author’s logical explanation about the financial, physical, and moral degradation, I found the ending of the story a little bit difficult to comprehend. After the initial three-fourths of the book, Sinclair then focuses the readers’ attention on the socialist life of Jurgis. The weak ending that turns the story into political propaganda culminates the story on a dark note.
Notwithstanding these weaknesses, I found the book to be one of the influential novels in America, more readable, and more relevant to current issues than other novels in the same genre. I was amazed at how vividly the author illustrated the musician and his troupe as well as the wedding scene.
These scenes and others are described such that the reader can literally ‘see’ the events taking place. Even though the setting of the book is during the early twentieth century, it adequately addresses some issues faced by the modern workforce. Most food industries are still staffed with illegal immigrants whose plight is still the same as it was at the turn of the twentieth century. As much as the author did not say that socialism has the answer to these problems, I think that we should look for ways of practicing capitalism better.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Jabber & Company, 1906. Print.