Please comment on the meaning of Packingtown in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
Packingtown is presented as the logical extension of the title that Sinclair gives to this book. It is a dog-eat-dog place, where only the fittest survive the poverty and want that characterises this location. Sinclar imposes some kind of Darwinianism into this location as families struggle against society and each other in order to get ahead and try to meet the challenges of life in such a squalid existence. The immense challenges of trying to get ahead in Packingtown are demonstrated in the following quote from the point of view of Jurgis:
Jurgis had come there, and thought he was going to make himself useful, and rise and become a skilled man; but he would soon find out his error--for nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good work. You could lay that down for a rule--if you met a man who was rising in Packingtown, you met a knave. That man who had been sent to Jurgis' father by the boss, he would rise; the man who told tales and spied upon his fellows would rise; but the man who minded his own business and did his work--why, they would "speed him up" till they had worn him out, and then they would throw him into the gutter.
In the brutal world of Packingtown, there seems to be only one way out, and that is by deliberately breaking the law and not playing by the rules. Jurgis himself goes on to demonstrate the truth of these words by becoming a criminal in Chicago later on in the novel. Packingtown is presented as an incredibly oppressive setting therefore that it is impossible to triumph over by playing by the rules.
As reflected in the novel’s title, The Jungle, the world of Packingtown is like a Darwinian jungle, in which the strong survive at the expense of the weak. Here, all living creatures are engaged in a brutal fight for survival. Symbolically, Packingtown represents the ugly result of unchecked capitalism, and the animal pens and slaughterhouses of Packingtown may be interpreted as representative of the fate of the downtrodden and exploited working class. The animals at Packingtown are herded into pens, made to suffer, given no choice about their fate and killed without regard for anything other than their economic value. Similarly, the thousands of poor immigrant workers in The United States feel trapped in the same type of relentless machinery that grinds them down and kills them without seeming to give them any other choice. Just as the herds of animals that pass through Packingtown in a constant, fungible flow of carcasses, so too are generations of immigrants ruined by mindless and physically demanding work for the benefit of twentieth century capitalism.