It tells the tale of a family of Lithuanian peasants who move to Packingtown, a stockyard community. Realistic and historically accurate, this novel could almost be the story of any one of thousands of peasants forced to work and live in squalid conditions. The book was originally written with the intent of ending the corruption and exploitation of peasant immigrants. More than 300 pages of small print tell of a family’s descent into poverty. Abused and cheated by the rich, they are finally abandoned when they can no longer serve the purpose of the cruel government leaders.
“The Jungle” is very well written and extremely moving. Unfortunately it did not have the effect that its author intended. Sinclair is quoted as saying, “I aimed at the public‘s heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” Like many other authors of his time, Sinclair was an advocate of socialism as the panacea to end “wage slavery” and corruption. Indeed, the last 45 pages of the book are to a large extent devoted to the character’s discussion of socialistic ideas and goals. The reality is that “The Jungle” did little to sway its reader’s toward Socialism, and had no notable effect on reform of worker’s rights. It did however, lead to the formation of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Beef Inspection Act, both of which became law less than six months after “The Jungle” was published.
I would recommend reading “The Jungle” to experience period muck racking literature, and to study the powerful and moving writing style of Upton Sinclair.