Upton Sinclair and the Chicago Meat-Packing Industry

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Upton Sinclair and the Chicago Meat-Packing Industry

By | September 2006
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Upton Sinclair and the Chicago Meat-packing Industry

In 1900, there were over 1.6 million people living in Chicago, the country's second largest city. Of those 1.6 million, nearly 30% were immigrants. Most immigrants came to the United States with little or no money at all, in hope of making a better life for themselves. A city like Chicago offered these people jobs that required no skill. However, the working and living conditions were hazardous and the pay was barely enough to survive on. This is the bases for Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle.

Sinclair agreed to "investigate working conditions in Chicago's meatpacking plants," for the Socialist journal, Appeal to Reason, in 1904. The Jungle, published in 1906, is Sinclair's most popular and influential work. It is also his first of many "muckraker" pieces. In order to improve society, muckrakers wanted to expose any injustice on human rights or well-being. Therefore, it was Sinclair's goal to expose the harsh treatment of factory workers through The Jungle. The improvement on society, that he hoped would follow, was the reformation of labor.

After seven weeks in Chicago, Sinclair was ready to start writing. He channeled the information that he gathered and represented it through the experiences of a fictitious family of Lithuanian immigrants. This family comes to America with the hope of prosperity and because "rich and poor, a man was free, it was said." However, when they arrive in Chicago, they discover that they must sell themselves into "wage slavery" just to survive. The term "wage slavery" was used because the poor treatment of the migrant workers was similar to that of blacks in the South, prior to the Civil War. Also, note that "wage slaves [were] kept from a meaningful community life by the struggle for mere existence."

The owners of the factories couldn't continuously oppress their workers through sheer capitalism alone. They needed help from the government and...
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