The Jungle is indisputably Upton Sinclair’s best and most influential book. He was, nevertheless, never entirely happy with its reception. While it contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 and other consumer protection legislation, his intent was to lay bare the capitalist system and demonstrate the need for democratic socialism. This message was largely ignored.
The Jungle’s critique of capitalism is unrelenting. Sinclair depicts a world that is dominated, as his title suggests, by might rather than right, a world that pits everyone against everyone else and metes out rewards on the basis of clout rather than merit. People are lured to the cities in droves and then discarded when they no longer serve the purposes of the powerful. They are maimed, forced to work in unsafe and unsavory conditions, and pushed, psychologically and physically, well past their breaking points.
Even as Sinclair describes the wedding feast in the opening chapter, he mixes images of gaiety and trays of piping-hot food with vignettes that chronicle the hardships of those forced to work as canners, picklers, beef boners, and general laborers. These workers’ tales are tragic, yet the workers refuse to admit defeat.
Jurgis personifies their defiance, constantly vowing to work harder and refusing to accept the systemic causes of his sufferings. He dedicates himself to achieving the American Dream and is convinced...
(The entire section is 1056 words.)
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