7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book on the recommendation of a colleague, having only vaguely heard of it before. I found the opening section of the book, the account of Jurgis' wedding, just a little off putting as the reader is introduced to a bewilderingly large cast of characters in quick succession. However the novel soon becomes intensely absorbing as we follow the fortunes of Jurgis and his extended family as they strive to secure - and then keep - various gruelling, badly paid and often extremely dangerous jobs in Chicago's meat packing industry.
The book is highly polemical - very similar to Robert Tressell's `Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' in many ways - as it demonstrates the dangers of a laissez faire economy, tracing the journey of a hopeful, hard working and rather conservative group of people to despair, death, and prostitution. The hero, Jurgis, begins the story a starry eyed believer in the American Dream but is forced to realize that the system exploits the labour of the young and strong, and abandons the sick and the old.
The family's problems begin when they are swindled into buying a house by a developer who fails to reveal all the hidden charges and penalties - but this disaster seems trivial compared to what follows. Sinclair's cool and forensic exposition of the various horrific situations his characters find themselves in adds to the novel's power. 'The Jungle' is not for the squeamish, and Sinclair's accounts of the various disgusting practices of the meat industry are as gruesomely compelling as Orwell's stories of Paris restaurant kitchens.
As a modern reader in the West I found myself alternating between relief that things have changed for the better and realization that in some ways - and in some places - things aren't so very different
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2005
I had never heard of Upton Sinclair until I stumbled on this book in a charity shop. I found it rivettingly horrible with it's graphic descriptions of a slaughterhouse and the conditions of the meat packing industry in Chicago around 1910. The book goes off the boil later but it's still a great read and like all great books it ushered in change when Theodore Roosevelt read it. I immediately bought another book called OIL! but I didn't find this in the same class as The Jungle. Sinclair seems to carefully research the industry he is writing about and this is what makes the Jungle a great book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2010
This book is a MUST read for anyone who is interested in what is wrong with food processing.
It charts the lives of an immigrant family, who start off healthy and have money, they end up in Chicago, and the first year they are healthy, after a year of poor work conditions and adulterated food, things start to happen to them...
A very good read, and puts a lot of things in perspective.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Jurgis, a strong, simple man, brings his extended family from Lithuania to Chicago, in hope of a better life. Thrown into the giant system of the Chicago stockyards, our heroes are gradually ground down by its ruthless practices. Their expectation that honest hard work will sustain a modest, decent lifestyle is revealed as hopelessly naive, and the family eventually crumbles under the strain to just survive.
The novel opens with the wedding of Jurgis and Ona, a scene in which the passion, humour and humanity of the characters are at their height:
"As [Marija] roars her song, in a voice of which it is enough to say that it leaves no portion of the room vacant, the three musicians follow her, laboriously and note by note, but averaging one note behind."
The opening is bursting with life and goodness. But from there it is downhill all the way, as the gears of the packing machine bite into their lives and every day is a desperate struggle to claw a few cents out of it:
"Once she cried aloud, and woke Jurgis, who was tired and cross. After that she learned to weep silently - their moods so seldom came together now! It was as if their hopes were buried in separate graves."
The relentless parade of barbarous practices ought logically to pale in its impact, but in fact each new monstrosity is more appalling than the last:
"It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were a nuisance, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread and meat would go into the hoppers together."
The comparison between the packers' merciless exploitation of livestock and of workers is explicit and unavoidable:
"He was of no consequence - he was flung aside, like a bit of trash, the carcass of some animal."
In its portrayal of savage exploitation, "The Jungle" stands alongside classics like "London Labour and the London Poor" and "The Grapes of Wrath". Sinclair's exposé of industry's systematic devouring of immigrant labour shouts its own case, but he helps it along too with bursts of impassioned rhetoric - such as when Jurgis is arrested:
"Now and then he cried aloud for a drink of water, but there was no one to hear him. There were others in that same station house with split heads and a fever; there were hundreds of them in the great city, and tens of thousands of them in the great land, and there was no one to hear any of them."
And when he is starving on the streets:
"...everywhere was the sight of plenty and the merciless hand of authority waving them away. There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where the things are behind the bars, and the man is outside."
All this is powerful, furious and bleak writing; but the trajectory of the tale is unfortunate. Jurgis' long travails bring him at length into the arms of socialism, clearly Sinclair's cure for these ills. The author's utopian presentation of a socialist future is understandable, laudable even, for a writer in 1906 who had not the dubious benefit of seeing the advent of communism and finding it quite as susceptible to corruption and brutalisation as capitalism. Indeed, the first of the speeches that Jurgis witnesses is an absolutely enthralling piece of oration. However, the closing passages of the book are entirely concerned with these hopeful politics, and Jurgis becomes no more than a cypher, a sort of roving webcam giving the reader access to the discussion. It's sad that in his enthusiasm to convert, Sinclair does to Jurgis what he has been at such pains to condemn: he crushes out the man's humanity in pursuit of an ideology. Plainly the author's motives are infinitely preferable to the greed of untrammelled industry, but this failing means that the novel lacks any human, felt resolution - a great shame after the pathos and tragedy that has captivated us throughout.
Nonetheless, it's a moving, eye-opening and unforgettable novel.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 15 March 2005
There are without a doubt better novels than "The Jungle". A great novel was not Sinclair's aim however. His aim was to point out the vile conditions that existed among working Americans in the early twentieth century. Conditions that were so awful that a visit to some workers in New York a few years before this book came out began to change young Theodore Roosevelt from a conservative to a progressive. Along the way Sinclair shocked the American public with the filth they were buying as quality meat.
Sinclair heaps horror after horror on Jurgis and his family. Almost to the point of overkill but again this was ment to be a work that shocked America and like "Uncle Tom's Cabin" before it "The Jungle" painted a worse case picture. Unregulated capitalism was exposed as the beast it was and still to an extent is with words like, "there was no place in it where a man counted for anything against a dollar." Sinclair was not out to improve the quality of food but that is what this book is most credited with. His real intent was to promote Socialism and in that to some extent he failed. However fear of the radical change Sinclair was after prompted many progressive reforms. Better a little change than a revolution.
In short, if you are looking for a great novel look elsewhere. Still, one needs to read this book for a look at where unregulated laissez-faire capitalism leads. As the calls increase to do away with government involvement in the regulation of business this book becomes more and more something that every American should read. Greed is a powerful thing and this book shows just how far some people will go in the quest for money. Powerful at times and sometimes a little off course this work by Upton Sinclair should always serve as a reminder of what was and what might be again.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2015
A red jungle, a heart of darkness in the city
A book that will change you, and take you places you never knew existed, a book about the inhumanity of man towards man an animal. A Book that exposed the worst in capitalism and changed laws in the USA. A powerful indictment to greed and abuse for profit.
At the same time a demonstration that freedom of speech and expression can change things and will triumph over regimes that oppress the forces of change the fifth state.
Human nature is not what we would like it to be; so we need checks and balances like this book or 1984 by Orwell; we need to expose our baser instincts confront them not as if they were the shortcomings of others but our own. This book is a must read, a warning from the past to the present and the future.
When I read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" in high school I had to keep reminding myself that that novel was written in 1906, otherwise I would never be able to eat another hot dog the rest of my life. Although muckraking is a term used to describe journalistic exposes, "The Jungle" functioned much the same way by bringing instant notoriety to the American meatpacking industry. In his story of the Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus and his family, Sinclair revealed the unsanitary, dangerous, and inhumane conditions that existed in Chicago's stockyards and meat-packing houses. When the novel was published it became front-page news across the nation and President Theodore Roosevelt invited Sinclair to the White House to discuss his book. Because of this book the sales of pre-packed meat in the United States was cut in half and the public outrage would lead to the passage of both the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Beef Inspection Act.
Originally, Sinclair's story was published serially in "The Appeal to Reason," a socialist weekly and was dedicated to "The Workingmen of America." Clearly, Sinclair intended "The Jungle" to be a clarion call to socialism and a plea for the end of wage slavery, and ultimately he was disappointed by the reaction to his novel, writing once, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach." In this graphic novel adaptation of "The Jungle," artist Peter Kuper and his co-writer Emily Russell (who I believe is his daughter) clearly make an effort to get back to the basics and refocus the story so that this time it hits the heart.
Originally published in 1991 as part of an attempt to revive the Classics Illustrated comic book line, Kuper uses a full-color stencil technique that suggests that particular period but anticipates, so to speak, the political art of the period before World War II. Jurgis Rudkus and the other characters are depicted with an almost doll-like quality, which eerily enhances the tragic story. Sometimes I think he looks like a clownish version of the Frankenstein monster, but I find that underscores the sense that Jurgis is up against a man-made monster in the unfettered capitalist economy that Sinclair depicts. To cut down the original novel to the 44-pages illustrated pages of this graphic novel, the mind numbing and health eroding work in the fertilizer plant is reduce to a couple of pages. This is why the focus in Kuper's version shifts from what Americans were eating to what is happening to Jurigs, as his personal tragedy becomes the heart of the story.
Consequently, I find that this graphic novel version of "The Jungle" is not so much a substitute for reading the original novel as it is an ancillary work. More than with most such adaptations, you really have to have read (and vividly remember) the original work to appreciate what Kuper and Russell have wrought here. Even if consider socialism to be outdated, unnecessary and/or offensive, you have to admit that Sinclair's novel speaks to the historic reality of what life was like for the working class at a time when that meant they were members of the lower class. At the very least, you can appreciate the grand irony that Sinclair's book did as much to forestall a socialist revolution in the United States but spurring the government to actually act on the issues he incorporated into "The Jungle."
Kuper currently illustrated "SPY vs. SPY" each month for "MAD" magazine, but his illustrations and comics have also appeared in "Time," "Newsweek," and "The New York Times." In addition to "The Jungle" he has also illustrated Sinclair's "The Jungle and Sticks and Stones," a wordless graphic novel about the rise and fall of empires, which was awarded the gold medal in the 2004 Society of Illustrators competition in the sequential arts category. He has also done a graphic novel version of "The Metamorphosis" as well as adapted several Franz Kafka short stories in "Give It Up!" So if you are looking for more literary works given the Kuper touch, then check those out as well.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2000
After writing this book Sinclair himself remarked he had aimed for the public's hearts but instead hit their stomacks. This statement is still very relevent today. This book is a condemnation of the cruel and oppressive nature of the capitalist system. At a time when the U.S. was said to be a place full of prosperity, on its way to becoming the leading capitalist nation in the world, the domestic casualties of this are witnessed. The corruption that keeps the wealth in the hands of the rich is also vividly exposed. America "a beacon of democracy", is shown to be instead a ruthless, heartless land where those who are unfortunate are left no alternative but live a life of extreme poverty serving their oppressive masters. Sinclaire allows us to see the hell experienced by the hard working immigrants and then offers an alternative in socialism. I would argue this is not a radical conclusion but the realisation that capitalism has many contradictions which leave most of the world in hellish poverty whilst those with power, using oppressive methods defend ther privilidged position.
on 7 October 2009
About 100 pages into this book I was tempted to put it down forever. Not because the book was poor; rather because the story it tells is so harrowing. The main protagonist, "Jurgis", is a Lithuanian peasant who fetches up in early 20th century Chicago in search of a better life. What he finds is a wretched city, completely under the heel of a merciless, capitalist order. Jurgis finds work in a meat-processing plant and the bloody workings of this plant are described in memorable, indeed spectacular, detail by Sinclair in Chapter 3. (Incidentally, for patrons of the RSPCA this chapter is best avoided!) From this point on Jurgis' life becomes increasingly complicated and he gradually takes on the appearance of a tragic figure as he grapples manfully with the seemingly endless catalogue of personal and economic difficulties associated with life in this proto-capitalist dystopia.
Perseverance is perhaps the key to enjoying this book. The first 100 pages or so are somewhat dreary and some readers will doubtless be tempted to cast it aside. Also, Sinclair's cherished pro-socialist agenda - in many ways the life force of this book - may grate on some readers.
Oddly, I didn't realise how much I enjoyed the book until I had finished it. So perseverance is the key... I dare say you won't regret it!
on 8 December 2009
This great novel exposes the appalling, brutal exploitation of American workers. Upton Sinclair shows how the employer uses unemployment to keep wages low and conditions vile.
He also shows how the employer Durham used immigration to undermine the workers. "The Bohemians had come then, and after them the Poles. People said that old man Durham himself was responsible for these immigrations; he had sworn that he would fix the people of Packingtown so that they would never again call a strike on him, and so he had sent his agents into every city and village in Europe to spread the tale of the chances of work and high wages at the stockyards. The people had come in hordes; and old Durham had squeezed them tighter and tighter, speeding them up and grinding them to pieces, and sending for new ones. The Poles, who had come by tens of thousands, had been driven to the wall by the Lithuanians, and now the Lithuanians were giving way to the Slovaks."