What is the main idea of Sinclair Lewis's The Jungle?

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The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (not Sinclair Lewis), is a novel that was intended as an indictment of American capitalism, specifically the meat industry. Sinclair follows the story of immigrants from Lithuania who live in the Chicago slums, primarily the couple Jurgis and Ona.

The central point of the novel is that the capitalist system is rigged against the working class- the urban laboring population who do the industrial work in (at that time) unsafe and even hellish conditions in the factories. Most working-class people are in a situation where they never have enough money; wages are poor and they are always in debt and essentially being swindled by the system. Though Sinclair's purpose was chiefly to condemn the economic system underlying these conditions, the novel became a sensation because he exposed the unsafe and filthy conditions in which the meat-packing industry operated. The meat produced in the factories is not only contaminated by dirt and rodents, but already (in 1900) is prepared using dangerous chemical additives. Sinclair made the comment that became famous: "I aimed at the country's heart but hit it in the stomach." Though his purpose had been to evoke sympathy for the exploited working class, his readership was more affected by the issue of unsafe and contaminated food.

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Upton Sinclair was a writer and socialist who wrote The Jungle to dramatize the plight of exploited workers in the U.S. In this book, which was first serialized in a socialist newspaper, Lewis showed how the meat packing industry in Chicago forced workers to toil in harsh, dangerous conditions for very low pay. The workers would be rapidly replaced if they got ill or injured and had no rights.

The book chronicles the downfall of a family who, in addition to toiling in terrible jobs, also tries to pursue the American Dream by purchasing their own home. However, they don't understand the terms of the contract and are soon in over their heads with ballooning payments and a shoddy house. Eventually, they are put on the street.

Lewis wrote the novel in hopes of encouraging support for unionization, worker's protections and decent wages. Instead, middle class audiences were shocked at the depictions of the filth in the meat packing industry. The book led to reforms there, including government inspections of slaughterhouses. As Lewis said, he aimed for people's hearts, meaning he hoped to raise sympathy for the worker, but hit people's stomachs instead.

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