The Jungle: A Book Review

The Jungle
The Jungle

They could feel the cold as it crept in through the cracks, reaching out for them with its icy, death-dealing fingers; and they would crouch and cower, and try to hide from it, all in vain. It would come, and it would come; a grisly thing, a specter born in the black caverns of terror; a power primeval, cosmic, shadowing the tortures of the lost souls flung out to chaos and destruction. It was cruel iron-hard; and hour after hour they would cringe in its grasp, alone, alone. There would be no one to hear them if they cried out; there would be no help, no mercy. And so on until morning—when they would go out to another day of toil, a little weaker, a little nearer to the time when it would be their turn to be shaken from the tree.

--Chapter Seven, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is an eye-opening novel about Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to Chicago to live the American Dream. Jurgis Rudkus had just wed the beautiful but young Ona; Jurgis and Ona’s family must take jobs at Packingtown, a meatpacking industry full of deceit and corruption.

I would like to take a different approach with this book review. Instead of summarizing the entire book, I would like to share some personal feelings I have after finishing this masterpiece.

First, I am emotionally drained. Jurgis and his family truly believed they were going to live the American Dream. They purchased a house, thinking it was to be theirs forever, only to be lied to time and time again about fees and insurance. They took jobs at Packingtown, thinking they would remain healthy, happy people with a steady income. Instead, they were fired upon multiple occasions for ridiculous reasons; they were thrown out onto the streets; and they were left to starve on many occasions. I fell in love with Jurgis’s character, which was not fully developed until halfway through the book. He started out as a strong, youthful man. After taking numerous jobs with the meatpacking industries, he was stripped of his strength and health. As I flipped through each chapter, I thought there was no way anything worse could happen to this poor man—a man who cried, “I will work harder!” so his family would not starve. The miseries this man endured will exhaust anyone's heart.

Second, as a carnivore, I wasn’t sure how I would react to reading such a candid novel about the meat industry. Sinclair wrote this muckraking novel in hopes of opening the eyes to the industry’s labor conditions in accordance with immigrants. However, the result of this book appalled society in a different way. To find out that the industry allowed rats to burrow in the meat scraps, be diced up, canned, and sent to consumers completely outraged Americans. So much, in fact, that President Theodore Roosevelt demanded an official investigation, which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug laws. Now, I will stare at my meat with suspicious uncertainty.

Third, as a capitalist, it was very intriguing to see a different viewpoint. While I don’t agree with Sinclair’s socialist notions, it was interesting to see it through the eyes of an immigrant labor worker. Toward the end of the novel, Jurgis comes upon a political rally, where he hears a man speak about socialism. Jurgis is so enthralled that he becomes a socialist. The reader can really see Sinclair’s personality come through toward the last five chapters of this book. It was truly as if Sinclair was trying to convert every American to socialism. One hundred years later, it seems as though the late Sinclair is getting his wish.

Finally, as much as I loved this book, I wish I had had more closure with Jurgis. Quoting from the endnotes section: “Sinclair made many changes and omissions when the serial version of The Jungle was republished in novel form—among them, the elimination of a final paragraph that read: ‘All of which was at one o’clock on the morning of the day after election; and at one o’clock of the afternoon of the same day Jurgis was handcuffed to a detective, and on his way to serve a two-years’ sentence in a state’s prison for assault with intent to kill.’” This particular omission truly struck me as odd. There is only one person that Jurgis would have wanted to kill, but because Sinclair dropped Jurgis, basically, toward the last few chapters of the book, I can’t imagine the purpose this would have served. I wish that Sinclair would have at least written an epilogue, perhaps.

All in all, I give this novel 4.5 stars. Like George Orwell’s 1984, this book will make you think differently about your future. I highly recommend it.