What did Upton Sinclair mean by "I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach"?

Quick answer:

When Upton Sinclair said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” he likely meant that his novel The Jungle made people more outraged about the meat they were eating than the injustices facing the typical meat industry employee. Sinclair wanted to stir up feeling and outrage over the exploited, abused employees. Instead, he produced a furor over the contaminated meat, and the plight of the workers was relatively overlooked.

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Upton Sinclair said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach” in his 1906 novel The Jungle.

Sinclair wrote The Jungle to draw attention to the cruel conditions of workers in the United States meat industry. The novel centers on a young Lithuanian immigrant named Jurgis Rudkus.

In Chicago, Rudkus finds employment within the meat industry. His job exposes him to constant horrors and injustices. He tells how companies don't pay employees if they only work part of an hour. He also tells about the lack of soap, water, and proper bathroom facilities.

Sinclair then tells how contaminated animals would be treated with chemicals and sold to the public as good meat. He reveals the real ingredients of “potted ham,” “potted game,” and so on.

The parts on the polluted meat angered the general public and led to a radical restructuring of food laws and meat inspections. Yet it didn’t produce an immediate change for workers and the various inequities that they faced as employees for meat corporations.

When Sinclair issued his statement, he likely meant that the public was more concerned about their own bodies than the bodies and welfare of the abused workers. Sinclair likely wanted the public to sympathize with the workers and take action on their behalf. Instead, they were mostly upset about the rotten meat that had been foisted on them.

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