If it weren’t for this book, maybe none of us would be alive today, but that could be an over exaggeration. The Jungle brings to light the horrors of meat packing plants in the 1920s and actually brought about reforms in the way our food is handled and processed. Upton Sinclair’s novel takes place in the fiction city called Packingtown, a city that closely resembles Chicago in the same time era. It follows a newly immigrated Lithuanian family and their trials in America, a strange and foreign land. Jurgis is the head of the family and he is engaged to Ona. Her cousin, Marija and stepmother Elzbieta live with them along with a few other family members. They live in a tenement in the beginning of the novel and purchase their own house later, however realizing that they were scammed when it came to making payments on it. The family struggles more but Jurgis gets a job in a meat packing plant and the family is a little better off as the older ones get jobs as well. However, Ona admits to being sexually harassed at her workplace and Jurgis confronts the boss who was making the advances, knocking him out cold and landing him in prison. The family is unaware of Jurgis being locked up and have to find ways to make more money without him, Marija resulting to prostitution to make ends meet. Jurgis gets out of prison and realizes Ona is about to have a second child, but dies while in labor because the family couldn’t scrounge up enough money to find a sufficient doctor to save her, and their first child, Antanas, drowns in the street. Jurgis is defeated and leaves the family and beings to wander the country looking for work, falling deeper into alcoholism. In the end, he comes back to his family and becomes a socialist after seeing a rally (this is ironic because in my version of the book, there is an introduction by the author that praises socialism and you can tell he’s pretty biased). The Jungle was an interesting read, probably because it’s a historical novel, but also because it was based on fact. Sinclair was a muckraker and he saw firsthand how terrible the conditions were in factories that were processing food. It shows how our country fixed a problem in society and how to not revert back to that again.
Recently in AP United States History, we were discussing the era of the 1890s when middle-class reformers called Progressives were trying to change society and make it better for those in need. One of these reforms was the regulation of food, specifically meat. Upton Sinclair, a socialist author of the time, saw firsthand how terrible the conditions were and wanted to do something to change them, so he wrote The Jungle. This novel brought to light the horrors of the meat industry and how unhealthy it was for the workers and the consumers. I’m actually a little leary about reading this book because I have heard it is stomach-churning and vomit-inducing, something we should not be proud of as Americans. During the time before this book was published, the general public had no idea that their meat that they consumed was handled in grotesque, horrifying ways. They were oblivious to the fact that rats occupied the same space as their Sunday dinner. Upton Sinclair brought all this to light after the meat-packers union in Chicago went on strike and his editor said he should write about it. Nobody probably had the notion that this would lead to social and ethical reform. The things he witnessed were appalling and downright disgusting. You can read about some of the conditions of these meat-packing plants here, it’s too gross and time-consuming to type out. Sinclair published his book and the public was outraged; this was the food that they trusted workers with, stuff they were putting into their bodies with the illusion that it was good for them and safe as well. This led to major reform with President Teddy Roosevelt. the trustbusting man who reformed the corporate business world. He passed the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as the Meat Inspection Act that led to inspections of work places and the foundation of the FDA, with laws and regulations on the quality of food. Sinclair’s novel changed the way we eat, resulting in a change in the way we live, literally. Stay tuned for my next post of my review of The Jungle.