The Jungle as Socialist Propaganda

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In the world of economic competition that we live in today, many thrive and many are left to dig through trashcans. It has been a constant struggle throughout the modern history of society. One widely prescribed example of this struggle is Upton Sinclair's groundbreaking novel, The Jungle. The Jungle takes the reader along on a journey with a group of recent Lithuanian immigrants to America. As well as a physical journey, this is a journey into a new world for them. They have come to America, where in the early twentieth century it was said that any man willing to work an honest day would make a living and could support his family. It is an ideal that all Americans are familiar with- one of the foundations that got American society where it is today. However, while telling this story, Upton Sinclair engages the reader in a symbolic and metaphorical war against capitalism. Sinclair's contempt for capitalist society is present throughout the novel, from cover to cover, personified in the eagerness of Jurgis to work, the constant struggle for survival of the workers of Packingtown, the corruption of "the man" at all levels of society, and in many other ways.

To understand the ways in which political systems are important to this novel, it is necessary to define both capitalism and socialism as they are relevant to The Jungle. Capitalism, and more specifically, laissez-faire capitalism, is the economic system in America. It basically means that producers and consumers have the right to accumulate and spend their money through any legal means they choose. It is the economic system most fitting with the idea of the American Dream. The American Dream portrays the idea that if a man is lazy, he might not do so well, but if a man wants to work and educate himself and try to create a fortune, there is nothing standing in his way. Some believe that Capitalism is the cause for much of the poverty in the nation today, but any hardcore capitalist will tell you that capitalism inherited poverty, and far from being a cause of poverty, it is the only solution.

However, believers in socialism would completely disagree with this ideal. Socialism is the economic system in which the workers, instead of a rich minority of entrepreneurs, own all industry. Workers receive the full fruits of their labors instead of being given miniscule compensation for backbreaking labor. Since the people are paid well for their work, work becomes a cooperative entity where people come to rely on one another and people actually are more inclined to do their fair share to help the advancement of society as a whole.

In order to discuss these issues as they are pertinent to this story, a general summary of the story must first be given. The story revolves around the life and family of Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to America with his wife Ona, their children, and a few members of their extended family. They have heard the stories of other Lithuanian immigrants coming to America and making a fortune in the free economic system of America. They are bright-eyed looking ahead into their futures. They are moved into a section of Chicago known as Packingtown, a slum full of run-down housing and large polluting factories where workers sped their lives indoors toiling for meager wages. They are unaware of the plots of many citizens to swindle anyone they can and are taken by a few of them. America is not quite what it seems, but they are determined to make lives for themselves there since coming to America was the dream of many immigrants of this period. Their futures hold many unexpected setbacks and disasters, which will be discussed, that all but break their spirits.

The story opens at the veselija, or wedding party of Jurgis and his new wife, Ona. They have just arrived from Chicago and are celebrating their marriage in a bar in their neighborhood. It is a description of a large gathering of happy Lithuanian people...
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