The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

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Originally crafted as a scathing expose of the Chicago meatpacking industry of the early twentieth century, The Jungle by American journalist and author, Upton Sinclair, was based on his investigative work into the dark underbelly of capitalism in the country. Throughout his entire career, he wrote passionately about the inhuman conditions that lay behind the glittering facade of free market economics.

Jurgis Rudkus is a Lithuanian immigrant. The novel opens on his wedding day to the lovely young Ona Lukoszaite. The young couple struggle to make ends meet in the new country. Their family and friends are in similar circumstances, working in the cutthroat conditions of the unregulated sector in such areas as meat-packing and butchery. Rudkus takes up a job in a slaughterhouse but he and his wife fall into debt and are fleeced by con men and unscrupulous scammers. Their families are unable to help and when Ona confesses that her boss had demanded sexual favors so that she can keep her job, it proves to be the last straw for Jurgis. He attacks the predator and is promptly thrown into jail. His hopeless life becomes all the more tragic...

The Jungle is a channel for Upton Sinclair's deeply socialist leanings. Though born into a poor but socially privileged family of Southern aristocrats from Maryland, Sinclair left school early to start working in a newspaper. He supported himself through college and continued to work with the paper. He joined a popular socialist journal "Appeal to Reason" and began to work on a series of investigative pieces.

Initially, he was unable to find a publisher for The Jungle, as everyone he approached felt it was too shocking and dangerous. However, he finally found a small publishing house that was willing to take the risk. Sinclair himself was unprepared for the extreme, mixed reactions that greeted his somber novel. President Roosevelt who considered Sinclair a “hysterical, unbalanced and untruthful crackpot” was forced to admit that The Jungle depicted the reality of American capitalism. Further, the novel also led to public lobbying which compelled Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

As a blistering attack on the destruction of the American Dream and the terrible experiences of immigrants in America, The Jungle is matchless. However, it also provides a slightly one-dimensional and biased view of the evils of capitalism. The benefits and advantages of this system are not explored and Sinclair portrays it as an evil mechanism that destroys everything that it touches.

The Jungle is indeed a gripping if disturbing portrayal of the disreputable side of wealth generation.

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Title: Chapter 31

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July 23rd, 2018

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