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The Jungle – Analysis and Book Review

The Jungle Analysis: I feel extremely fortunate that as a whole, working families today do not experience as many tragedies as the characters in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle experienced during the beginning of the

20th century. While reading The Jungle I learned that the rights and welfare of the average American working man and woman have dramatically increased over the past hundred years. Although some of the same social, economic, and political problems still occur in our society, the problems are far less prevalent than they were during the time Sinclair wrote The Jungle.

The novel follows the lives a large Lithuanian family during the early 1900s that immigrates to the United States in the pursuit of freedom and happiness. The family of eleven took what little money they had with them to the United States with the hope of escaping poverty and providing a better life for their children. After a long, arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the family arrived in New York and was swindled out most of their savings by police who were supposed to protect them. The family continued to travel to Chicago (Packingtown), where they finally settled down. Upon arrival in Packingtown, the family found that the cost of living in the United States was far more expensive than in Lithuania. To further add to the family’s dismay, they learned that the only employment available to Cote Page 2 non-English speaking, uneducated, and hardworking immigrants like themselves in Packingtown was scarce, unstable, arduous, and dangerous. Packingtown was designed to make families dependent on working in factories. When an employee in a factory hurt themselves or was fell ill, they would quickly be tossed aside and filled with a fresh worker.

Employers in Packingtown demanded 16 hour workdays from their employees and rewarded them with meat infected with tuberculosis, low wages, and fatigue. Large businesses were able to commit such atrocities because they paid off politicians, police, and union leaders. Another reason employers were able to treat their employees so badly was because unemployment was so high. There was a constant supply of working men and women to fill any persons job who may quit out of protest. Politicians had no desire to address the needs of their constituents and only had their own special interests in mind. Both the Democrat and Republican Parties bought votes and manipulated countless elections. The Democrat party was among the biggest offenders and was also the largest party in Packingtown. Men who held political office weren’t fresh young men who were elected every couple of years, they were the same, elder incumbents who had held office for 30 years or more. Although these incumbents had experience, they were often jaded and usually looked out for their interests first, large business interests second, and the working peoples interests last.

One of the most tragic concepts I found in Sinclair’s novel was the class system. At the present we have the privilege to strive for a better life and attempt to better ourselves economically through education. During the early 1900’s, most of the people were born and Cote Page 3 died in the same class. The gap between the rich and the poor was extremely large and there was hardly any middle class citizens. Many of the immigrant families who flocked to the United States during the time actually left better circumstances in their home countries to work in places like Packingtown which killed men by overworking them. I found it extremely saddening to read about how the large Lithuanian family arrived in the United States with dignity, integrity, and determination only to loose it all to Packingtown.

One of the main reasons why I feel the main character of the novel, Jurgis, embraced the Communist Party with such passion as he did was because he had experienced every social ill which the United States had offered at the time. His wife was forced into prostitution, his child died from neglect, many of his loved ones died from overwork and starvation, and countless friends and other family members continued to live the rest of their lives working in the slaughterhouses of Packingtown. The Communist Party was so popular at the time because citizens found that the Republican and Democrat parties weren’t doing enough for them. The Communist Party was built on the platform of helping the working men and women of the United States. Voters responded overwhelmingly in favor of Communism because they were tired of being mistreated by big businesses through the country. Although Communism was never a major political force in the United States for an extended period of time, I believe it sent a message to the major parties to reform or be thrown out by a non-corrupted party.

Upon completion of The Jungle I found it extremely amazing how quickly technology and legislation has proved safer, cleaner, and less strenuous work environments in less then a Cote Page 4 hundred years. I credit the change of work conditions and environments to not only the politicians and inventors in this country, but to the working men and women who killed themselves trying to provide a better life for their families.