|Publisher||Doubleday, Jabber & Company|
|February 26, 1906|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
The Jungle is a 1906 novel written by the American journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968). Sinclair wrote the novel to portray the harsh conditions and exploited lives of meat packing industries in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities. However, most readers were more concerned with his exposure of health violations and unsanitary practices in the American meatpacking industry during the early 20th century, greatly contributing to a public outcry which led to reforms including the Meat Inspection Act. Sinclair famously said of the public reaction "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
The book depicts working class poverty, the lack of social supports, harsh and unpleasant living and working conditions, and a hopelessness among many workers. These elements are contrasted with the deeply rooted corruption of people in power. A review by the writer Jack London called it "the Uncle Tom's Cabin of wage slavery."
Sinclair was considered a muckraker, or journalist who exposed corruption in government and business. In 1904, Sinclair had spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards for the newspaper. He first published the novel in serial form in 1905 in the Socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason and it was published as a book by Doubleday in 1906.
The main character in the book is Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant trying to make ends meet in Chicago. The book begins with his and Ona's wedding feast. He and his family live near the stockyards and meatpacking district, where many immigrants work who do not know much English. He takes a job at Brown's slaughterhouse. Rudkus had thought the US would offer more freedom, but he finds working conditions harsh. He and his young wife struggle to survive. They fall deeply into debt and are prey to con men. Hoping to buy a house, they exhaust their savings on the down-payment for a sub-standard slum house, which they cannot afford. The family is eventually evicted after their money is taken.
Rudkus had expected to support his wife and other relatives, but eventually all—the women, children, and his sick father—seek work to survive. As the novel progresses, the jobs and means the family uses to stay alive slowly lead to their physical and moral decay. Accidents at work and other events lead the family closer to catastrophe. Rudkus' father dies as a direct result from the unsafe work conditions in the meat packing plant. One of the children, Kristoforas, dies from food poisoning. Jonas—the other remaining adult male aside from Rudkus—disappears and is never heard from again. Then an injury results in Rudkus being fired from the meat packing plant; he later takes a job at Durham's fertilizer plant. The family's hardships accumulate as Ona confesses that her boss, Connor, had raped her, and made her job dependent on her giving him sexual favors. In revenge, Rudkus attacks Connor, resulting in his arrest and imprisonment.
After being released from jail, Rudkus finds that his family has been evicted from their house. He finds them staying in a boarding house, where Ona is in labor with her second child. She dies in childbirth at age eighteen from blood loss; the infant also dies. Rudkus had lacked the money for a doctor. Soon after, his first child drowns in a muddy street. Rudkus leaves the city and takes up drinking. His brief sojourn as a hobo in rural United States shows him that there is really no escape—farmers turn their workers away when the harvest is finished.
Rudkus returns to Chicago and holds down a succession of laboring jobs and as a con-man. He drifts without direction. One night, he wanders into a lecture being given by a socialist orator, where he finds community and purpose. After a fellow socialist employs him, Rudkus locates his wife's family. He finds out that Marija, Ona's cousin, had become a prostitute to support the family and is now addicted to morphine; Stanislovas, the oldest of the children at the beginning of the novel, had died after getting locked in at work and being eaten alive by rats. Rudkus then resumes his support of his wife's family. The book ends with another socialist rally, which follows some political victories.
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Sinclair published the book in serial form between February 25, 1905 and November 4, 1905 in Appeal to Reason, the socialist newspaper that had supported Sinclair's undercover investigation the previous year. This investigation had inspired Sinclair to write the novel, but his efforts to publish the series as a book met with resistance. An employee at Macmillan wrote,
I advise without hesitation and unreservedly against the publication of this book which is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels that what is at the bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire to help the poor as hatred of the rich.
Five publishers rejected the work as too shocking. Sinclair was about to self-publish a shortened version of the novel in a "Sustainer's Edition" for subscribers when Doubleday, Page came on board; on February 28, 1906 the Doubleday edition was published simultaneously with Sinclair's of 5,000 which appeared under the imprint of “The Jungle Publishing Company” with the Socialist Party’s symbol embossed on the cover, both using the same plates. It has been in print ever since, including four more self-published editions (1920, 1935, 1942, 1945). Sinclair dedicated the book "To the Workingmen of America".
In 2003, See Sharp Press published an edition based on the original serialization of The Jungle in Appeal to Reason, which they described as the "Uncensored Original Edition" as Sinclair intended it. The foreword and introduction say that the commercial editions were censored to make their political message acceptable to capitalist publishers. Others argue that Sinclair had made the revisions himself to make the novel more accurate and engaging for the reader, corrected the Lithuanian references, and streamlined to eliminate boring parts, as Sinclair himself said in letters and his memoir American Outpost (1932).
Upton Sinclair intended to expose "the inferno of exploitation [of the typical American factory worker at the turn of the 20th Century]", but the reading public fixed on food safety as the novel's most pressing issue. Sinclair admitted his celebrity arose "not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef". Some critics have attributed this response to the characters, most of whom, including Rudkus, have unpleasant qualities. The last section, concerning a socialist rally Rudkus attended, was later disavowed by Sinclair. But his description of the meatpacking contamination captured readers' attention.
Sinclair's account of workers falling into rendering tanks and being ground along with animal parts into "Durham's Pure Leaf Lard" gripped the public. The poor working conditions, and exploitation of children and women along with men, were taken to expose the corruption in meat packing factories.
President Theodore Roosevelt had described Sinclair as a "crackpot" because of the writer's socialist positions. He wrote privately to William Allen White, "I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth." After reading The Jungle, Roosevelt agreed with some of Sinclair's conclusions. The president wrote "radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist." He assigned the Labor Commissioner Charles P. Neill and social worker James Bronson Reynolds to go to Chicago to investigate some meat packing facilities.
Learning about the visit, owners had their workers thoroughly clean the factories prior to the inspection, but Neill and Reynolds were still revolted by the conditions. Their oral report to Roosevelt supported much of what Sinclair portrayed in the novel, excepting the claim of workers falling into rendering vats. Neill testified before Congress that the men had reported only "such things as showed the necessity for legislation." That year, the Bureau of Animal Industry issued a report rejecting Sinclair's most severe allegations, characterizing them as "intentionally misleading and false", "willful and deliberate misrepresentations of fact", and "utter absurdity".
Roosevelt did not release the Neill-Reynolds Report for publication. His administration submitted it directly to Congress on June 4, 1906. Public pressure led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906; the latter established the Bureau of Chemistry (in 1930 renamed as the Food and Drug Administration).
Sinclair rejected the legislation, which he considered an unjustified boon to large meat packers. The government (and taxpayers) would bear the costs of inspection, estimated at $30,000,000 annually. He complained about the public's misunderstanding of the point of his book in Cosmopolitan Magazine in October 1906 by saying, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
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