Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle": Failure as Propaganda

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Upton Sinclair has famously remarked, “All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.” These words are especially befitting for Sinclair’s most famous novel, The Jungle. Sinclair’s novel follows the devastating collapse of an immigrant Lithuanian family as a result of the ruthless practices of capitalism. Thus, The Jungle is a severe critique of capitalism, and it possesses the intention of persuading readers to adopt the views of the socialism. With this objective in mind, the book has been heavily classified as a piece of socialist propaganda by many critics. Sinclair’s goal to convert readers to socialism failed for the most part, however, but the novel did help pass landmark legislation dealing with food safety conditions. The Jungle as a piece of socialist propaganda ultimately fails as the result of various factors including Sinclair’s biased argument against capitalism, structure and focus of the plot, and the overall credibility of the story. The Jungle is clearly a piece of propaganda to convince readers to adopt the views of the Socialist party, and Sinclair wanted readers to recognize his argument by identifying the inhumane forces of capitalism in society. As a piece of propaganda, The Jungle employs the technique of “Pinpointing the Enemy”. This technique attempts to simplify a larger, more complex situation by representing both sides of the argument with a group of people, and it views the situation in terms of clear-cut right and wrong. The Jungle fits the description of this technique in the view that the Packingtown leaders represent the corrupt capitalists, and Jurgis and his family come to embody the argument for socialism. Sinclair’s novel is not overly complicated, and one can distinguish that he views capitalism as the major problem in society while crediting socialism as the best solution to the problem. In order to make an argument against the merciless forces of capitalism, the novel demonstrates how the family structure is broken down by the corrupt, capitalist-run Packingtown. Sinclair formulates a plot in which every disastrous event that occurs to the family is directly associated to some failure in the capitalist system. By correlating these events to show the injustices of capitalist practices, Sinclair blames the collapse of Jurgis’s family to these failures in the system of capitalism. Starting with the death of Old Dede Antanas as a result of the unsanitary working conditions, the family suffers a tragic demise as they fall prey to the brutal conditions of their surroundings.

Apart from developing a plot structure to highlight the failures of the capitalist system, Sinclair also uses other techniques to expand on his argument against capitalism. One of these techniques is known as free and indirect discourse. As noted by Christopher Taylor in his article “Inescapably Propaganda”, “Sinclair uses free indirect discourse in two ways. In many instances, the narrator paraphrases information accredited to a character but does so while maintaining an ironic distance from the character’s ideas” (Taylor 173). In using this technique, the narrator speaks for Jurgis, declaring, “All that a mere man could do . . . was to take a thing like this [the slaughterhouse] as he found it, and do as he was told; to be given a place in it and share in its wonderful activities was a blessing to be grateful for” (Sinclair 40–41). Free and indirect discourse such as this gives the reader a much larger understanding about particular issues than if they were to be explained by the novel’s characters. Sinclair’s opinion is also utilized in other techniques that Taylor has observed, “[he] frequently employs the plot of apprenticeship, though his protagonists are educated not about their own characters but about the nature of global capitalism and the possibility of sweeping reform. This kind of plot, even without overt commentary,...
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