Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Jungle

One common misconception of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is that it's main purpose is expose the meat packing industry. Although it did accomplish that, it was not the main purpose. Sinclair was a socialist and the purpose of the book was to get people to adopt socialism. He said, "I aimed at the nations hearts, instead I hit their stomachs" and believe me, he does hit the stomach, but there are other, more important ideas discussed which should also be acknowledged.

The Jungle tells a some-what realistic story of an immigrant family from Lithuania who come to Chicago with hopes of a better life. When they get there, things are not as great as they seem. One thing of the first things they notice is, the train whisles sound sad. This foreshadows the family's fate.

The novel includes many problems that were relevent back in the turn of the 20th century including child labor, poverty, poor working conditions, low wages, government corruption, unfair buisiness practices, consumer fraud, and even organized crime.

The overarching theme of the novel is social darwinism. The strongest survive while the weak die away. This idea directly effects the family, and in the end, the only survivors are the strong ones in the family. Darwin presented the idea of natural selection and the survival of the fitest. One of the playgrounds of Darwins ideas is the jungle. Hence the connection between natures jungle and the jungle of America.

The author then presented socialism as a solution to all of these problems, and the books ends abruptly, in a way to excite the reader to go out and campaign for socialism. To bad it didn't work on me. It seems somewhat unrealistic that one man could be exposed to every vice and every problem in america at the time, and the twists and turns that this novel takes are too unbelievable. At one point the mayor's son is drunk and actually brings in the main character to his house, gives him a feast and a $100 bill. Another time a random rich lady sees a child digging through the trash and follows him home. She then sees the main character and finds him a job after he had been fired from his old job. What would a rich woman be doing in a company-meatpacking-town? I have no idea, but I guess he really needed that job.

If you are at all interested in American History circa 1900s, this is a good book to visualize the problems and how they effected the low class working man. If you are like me, and is not about to convert to socialism, then I recommend skipping the last 40 pages, it gets painfully boreing. But the first 200 are quick. Don't be discouraged by the first chapter either, just chug through it and you're set.