It’s a Jungle Out There
Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, gives a heart breaking portrayal of the hardships faced by the countless poverty stricken foreign laborers in the slaughter houses of Chicago. In the early 1900's, strikes, riots, labor unions, and new political parties arose across the country. The government, with its laissez-faire attitude, allowed business to consolidate into trusts, and with lack of competition, into powerful monopolies. These multi-million dollar monopolies were able to exploit every opportunity to make greater fortunes regardless of human consequences. Sinclair illustrates the harsh conditions in Packingtown through a Lithuanian immigrant family and their struggles to survive. Jurgis Rudkus and his extended family come to the United States to find work and to make a better life for themselves. When everyone finds employment right away, the family begins their lives in the unfamiliar United States with optimism, enthusiasm, and naivety. Their inexperienced attitude is evident when they purchase a small rickety house. Slowly, they awaken to the harsh realities of their surroundings. There's the mortgage to pay, interest on the mortgage, food, clothing, shoes, and coal that needs to be bought, but there isn’t enough money to pay for it all. Therefore, this leads the rest of the family to trudge out into the cold and merciless streets of Chicago to beg for work and money. However, Jurgis and his family still lacked the sufficient income necessary to make ends meet. Through the duration of the novel, tragedy after tragedy strikes this family, leading the family into ruin. After a long series of unfortunate events, the reader finds Jurgis fresh out of prison, his wife dead, and his family scattered. Jurgis eventually overcomes his misfortunes and finds salvation in a newly formed political party, called Socialism.
The focus of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is the politics of immigration in the meatpacking industry. Sinclair’s novel describes how immigrants were taken advantage of in Chicago, and the horrors of working in the how meatpacking industry. He describes how immigrant workers become involved in political machines they knew nothing about in order to survive their mistreatment caused by the capitalist pigs who run the meatpacking industry. The horrors of the meatpacking industry that Sinclair describes are: terrible working conditions, terrible pay, and production of meat.
The working conditions in the stockyards of Chicago were unbearable. There was no corporate concern for the worker’s safety or health. Despite government regulations, the floors in the factories were “half an inch deep with blood.” Interacting with blood is dangerous, and these factories were riddled with diseases. The employers at the factories did not care at all for their workers, making them work long, impossible hours. The machinery was also an issue in the meatpacking industry. Factory managers made little children go in the machines to fix something, risking their lives. Fingers and other body parts were often hacked off by the machinery and just ground into the rest of the meat. Many workers were doomed to die after “breathing their lungs full of fine dust.” The employers in the stockyard did not care for their workers. If some died off, they could easily be replaced by the thousand other begging for work. Their cruel, emotionless attitude towards their employees caused the working conditions to slip way past acceptable, and led to the untimely deaths of many of their workers.
It is made perfectly obvious to the reader that Jurgis, his family, and the rest of the workers are paid barely enough to make ends meet. Repeatedly throughout the novel, Jurgis’s wages are described as "he will carry home three dollars to his family, being his pay at the rate of five cents per hour.” One must understand that the value of the dollar was different then, but his salary was still under the poverty level. Being under the...
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