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The Jungle Essay, Research Paper

Its a Jungle Out There

The Jungle has been compared to the writings of Leo Tolstoy and other nineteenth-century Russian novelists and to such French naturalists as Zola in its complete pessimism, its mood of black despair, and unrelieved tragedy. The setting is the stockyards and slums of Chicago. A succession of races–the Germans, the Irish, the Bohemians, the Poles, the lithuanians, the Slovaks–had followed each other as stockyard workers, lured from their Old World villages to America by agents of the packers with promises of phenomenal wages.(346)

The Jungle, considered Upton Sinclair s greatest achievement, shows the unsafe and disgusting conditions in the meat packing plants that the workers and animals had to live and die with. However, the main purpose was to move the reader on the path to socialism, something in which Sinclair truly believed in. The Jungle was not recognizes for this, though, and Sinclair showed his disappointment with his often quoted remark about aiming for the public s heart and hitting the stomach instead. Nonetheless, the characters, themes, and styles of writing Sinclair used show how important Socialism was and how horrible Capitalism was at that time.

In the novel, the main character named Jurgis(Yoorghis) sees that everyone that comes into contact with capitalism is either taken advantage of in every way possible, or becomes greedy, dishonest, and materialistic, both of which Jurgis had lived first hand. Jurgis sees the deceitfulness used by the political machine in the packing yards of Chicago. When the elections come around every year, he is bribed to vote under many different names, and is paid four dollars, equal to a week worth of work. Also, Jurgis is paid five dollars to pick up paychecks for imaginary city workers. Later in the novel, Jurgis becomes involved in the political machine. He becomes one of the henchmen for the political powers in the packing yards. After he gets put in jail, he is forced to buy his way out, which costs him everything he has. After he is forced to live like a tramp again, he feels an powerlessness about his life, an empty feeling. He misses how he used to live extravagantly, and wonders how he could have lived without it.

Another character that finds the evils of capitalism is Marija, who is forced in a life of prostitution and drug use due to the competitive nature of capitalism. When she first tries to get a job in the meat plants, she needs to bribe the forewomen in order to get the job. Also while Marija is trying to support the family without Jurgis, she is led to a life of prostitution because it is the only job she can obtain. While living in the brothel, she gets a morphine addiction, and she finds that she was having to pay for living there, which amounts to basically the entire paycheck. Marija soon finds out that she cannot support her family due to the capitalist mindset in Chicago. She figures that being a prostitute is better than having to starve and live on the street. In the final chapter, Marija gives up all hope of trying, as apparent in the following quote: No, she answered, I ll never stop. What s the use of talking about it? I ll stay here till I die, I guess. (325) Therefore, due to the evils of capitalism, characters in the novel show the entire social system to prove that all that come in contact with capitalism are brutalized and corrupted.

During the course of the novel, Sinclair uses many themes. One major theme is materialism and merciless competition had made America into a metaphorical jungle. When Sinclair describes the thousands of people waiting to just get a chance at getting employment, he shows that the naturalistic nature of the packing yards. He shows that the people have little chance of getting employment, or even surviving in the brutal jungle of Chicago. These naturalistic lives are something that Sinclair wishes to take away, and replace it with socialism. With socialism, the big business would be obsolete; instead families or individuals would run regulated versions of the big business. So under socialism, Sinclair argues that the naturalism would be gone because the common people have a chance for survival. So during the course of the novel, Sinclair uses theme to illustrate his point.

Another theme used by Sinclair is that industrial capitalism is an efficient, impersonal killing machine that has absolutely no regard for human life. This can be shown by the brutal treatment of the people that work in the plant. Sinclair writes:

Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer-men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor, for the odor of the fertilizer-man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards; and for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting-sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham s Pure Leaf Lard! (102)

This shows the incredible danger that the workers put them selves in everyday just to try and make a living and with no sympathy from the greedy, money hungry boss.

In addition, Sinclair s writing style of figurative language is used mostly in metaphors and similes. When Sinclair uses them, he usually compares the character to a type of animal. An example of this is comparing Jurgis to a wounded bull and comparing Conner to a great beast. Both of these help to contribute to the jungle-type atmosphere that Sinclair has created through figurative language. Through these metaphors and similes, Sinclair makes the powerful people in the world see as the hunters in the jungle, and the lower class people are shown as being the hunted. This shows the power of the ruling class over the poor, and the reader starts to feel the hardships of the workers through the metaphors and similes used by Sinclair.

Also, Sinclair took a kind of nonfictional approach to writing the novel. He used statistics to show the vote increases in a variety of places, and on page 98, Sinclair even footnotes a United States Live Stock Ordinance. Sinclair intended to use statistics because people cannot dispute facts. The nonfictional approach Sinclair uses helps him to show why socialism is better that the existing governmental system.

In conclusion, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was written to show the goodness of socialism and the evils of capitalism, in addition to show the hardships of the workers in the packing yards of Chicago. Due to Sinclairs muckraking, The Jungle instigated many reforms, most notably the immediate pure food reform. Also, Sinclair brings the reader along the path to socialism using a variety of techniques, such as characters, theme, and style. The famous novelist and fellow Socialist Jack London hailed the book and wrote: It depicts what our country really is, the home of oppression and injustice, a nightmare of misery, an inferno of suffering, a human hell, a jungle of wild beasts … What Uncle Toms Cabin did for the black slaves The Jungle has a large chance to do for the white slaves of today. (349)


* Ebenstein, William. Today s isms. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1970.

* Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York, New York: The New American Library, 1906

* Herms, Deiter, ed. Upton Sinclair: Literature and Social Reform. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1990

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