The Jungle: Critical Analysis
The Jungle is a novel that focuses its story on a family of immigrants who came to America looking for a better life. It was written by muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair, who went into Chicago and the stockyards to investigate what life was like for the people who lived and worked there. The book was originally written with the intent of showing Socialism as a better option than Capitalism for the society. However, the details of the story ended up launching a government investigation of the meat packing plants, and ultimately regulation of food products. It gave an informative view of what life was like in America at the time, and some of the parts of it that were not talked about. Important topics like immigration, working conditions and sanitation issues of the time were all addressed well in the novel.
Immigration was one of the heavy themes in the novel, including where immigrants came from and why they came to America, and how they were treated once they got here. The story is about a man from Lithuania, Jurgis Rudkus, who takes his family to America in hopes of attaining the American Dream. A family he knows has lost all their money to creditors in Lithuania and now have nowhere to live, but a member of the family, Jonas, talks about how a friend he knows who immigrated to America and had great success. The majority of the immigrants who came to America at this period, during the Industrial Revolution, were mainly "Lithuanians, Poles, Slovaks, or Bohemians" (28). Before them it was the Irish, and then before them the immigrants mostly coming to America were German (70). The reason that Jurgis decided that he would go to America is because of all the great things he had heard about it, about the ideal of being free. He had heard "In that country, rich or poor, a man was free, it was said; he did not have to go into the army, he did not have to pay out his money to rascally officialshe might do as he pleased, and count himself as good as any other man" (23). This is what many immigrants believe in, and they wanted to come to the country in hopes of finding the American Dream, where they could work hard and make their way to the top of the ladder, where they would live freely in success.
However, the reality of what America was like was very harsh to most of the immigrants that flocked to it during the Industrial Revolution. For Jurgis and the eleven others he brought with on the voyage, they found that immigrants were often exploited in every way possible because they lacked knowledge of the country and the language. As they set out on the voyage to America, they were tricked by an officer into taking his passport, and another officer arresting him and charging him for it. They were also cheated out of their savings when they arrived in New York when an agent forced them to stay in his lodge that was much too expensive for them to afford (18). But when they reached the town, a stockyard called Packingtown where Meat Packing Plants were, it shows just how much advantage was taken of all these immigrants. Real Estate places would build houses out of poor material, then advertise the old houses as brand new for three times the cost it was to build them (69). The houses also had charges on interest, taxes, water and insurance that were not explained up front to the immigrants, who were unable to read and comprehend the deeds they would sign. All the jobs were paid at desperately low wages due to the high number of demand for work, since there were so many people that had immigrated and ended up homeless and poor, and needed a job to survive (83).
The working conditions for these immigrants at the meat packing plants were appalling and displayed how badly in need of a change they were. Workers in the factory that did unskilled labor would be paid only somewhere between a mere fifteen to twenty-five cents an hour. They would have to work from early in the morning...
Cited: Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Dell, 2003.
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