Monday, July 12, 2010

The Jungle- Upton Sinclair

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, is a dreary and stark look into the lives of Lithuanian immigrants who have transplanted themselves in the packing district of Chicago in the early 1900's.  It is a blunt description of Jurgis, Ona, and their families as they attempt to survive amid the harsh facts of starvation and cruelties afflicted on them.

This novel would have us believe that no one could be trusted and all immigrant lives should be devoid of hope in this 1906 US metropolis.  Calamity upon calamity is thrust upon Jurgis; the reader sees him start as a naive, but hard working and strong man, only to become a man bent under the burden of sorrow while he turns to crime to live.  By the end of this novel, Jurgis, has lost everything but a new found spark for Socialism.

This novel is very descriptive and detailed regarding the harsh living and working conditions in Packingtown.  The reader truly sees the plight of Jurgis and his family and might consider shunning meat for a while.  It seems, however, that this tale that is devoid of all hope save Socialism is a bit biased towards only one solution to America’s problems.  It's interesting to read this 100 year old book during economic hardships and reflect on where we've been as a country and where we are going.  Socialism was not chosen as the answer, but has capitalism worked?  I think Sinclair's ideology is a bit naive like Jurgis's view of the American dream, but this novel is a fascinating and surprisingly clear and does not hold back any punches. The descriptions of prostitution, canning of spoiled meat for distribution, and the real bosses behind Chicago are atypical for this period of novel and a welcome look into the seedier side of early America.

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