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
on 15 March 2006
The first idea of this book was to expose the gritty cities and the meat packing industury of the period, so reading the censored version is just not good enough. this full uncensored text may make the reader want to throw up every once in a while but thats the point. This has to be personally my favorite book from my degree study and usually this would not even happen, what with being forced to read it and all the text just becomes blank. But this is not the case with the jungle. Its beautifully written and takes the reader through the pools of blood on the cutting room floor to the smell of the house the poor immagrant family live in. If you want a read of a book with brains, timelessness and quality then read this version. Nothing else will do.
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.
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did; it sounded a bit dry. But no, this is a passionate, moving, tragic story about the dreadful hardships faced by a Lithuanian immigrant family as they move to Chicago with hope of building a glorious new life. The working conditions soon take their toll and while the book begins with a glorious, cacophanous wedding celebration, that is to be the pinnacle of the characters' experience of America. Things soon get worse as they are swindled, exploited, abused, and ground down in the labour machine of turn of the century Chicago.
It's sometimes a very hard book to read, so tragic and moving are some of the things that happen to the family. Yes it feels a little overdramatic and exploitative of misery to make a social point (there's no temperedness in the plotting), but as the point is (well, was) an entirely valid one, I can forgive it. Sometimes social novels like this can feel dated if the social climate has markedly changed and the issues described are no longer relevant; however The Jungle is so immediate, heartfelt and passionate that this wasn't a factor for me. Indeed, it may 110 years down the line but there are places in the world where I'm sure conditions like this still exist, and even in Britain there are too many people who feel the bite of poverty and are crushed beneath and alienated from the society they live in.
It's not a perfect book by any means, but the characters feel real, their plights are moving, the story is engaging, and the issues are horrifying. For anyone with an interest in social history, and powerful novels of raw force dealing with everyday characters, this is as good as you could get I suspect.
on 13 January 2005
While "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair is rightly regarded as a classic, the edition published by Doubleday Page was not the original text as published. The book first appeared in its original form, complete but serialised in the "Appeal To Reason" magazine. This is the version in this book, published first in 1905. This book contains the parts which were censored from the Doubleday text and also has the original, different ending.
"The Jungle" is an expose of the meat processing industry in Chicago by interweaving a novel around the salient facts of working conditions which were brought to light in the Packingtown workers' strike of 1904. Along with a group of politically motivated investigative reporters (who were later labelled "muckrakers") Sinclair brought into focus the way that the American industrial complex was unjust and corrupt.
Yet this book is also a warm, human tale of real human beings, beautifully written. You feel their anguish, happiness, and hope. It is truly one of the classics of twentieth century literature....and this version puts it into its correct context.
Get this and you won't be disappointed.
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.
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.
Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle' is the classic exposure of labour conditions in Chicago's meat packing industry at the beginning of the last century. But it is also an American version of 'Everyman', tracing the fortunes of Jurgis, a Lithuanian immigrant who has arrived with high expectations of a better life in 'the land of the free'. Disillusionment follows, as he and his family fall into the many traps that lie in his path. His trajectory from fit optimistic worker to a worn out bum that no one wants to employ is reflected in the disintegration of his young family as result of poverty and disease, helped by his own descent into a life of crime and degradation. His ultimate salvation comes via his conversion to socialism at a mass meeting, with the enticing vision of a major worker victory against capitalism within the next ten years.
Much of this novel makes grim, and at time distasteful reading. Misfortune is piled on misfortune; things always go wrong when life seems to be at last improving for Jurgis and his family. This reflects the basic weakness of 'The Jungle' as a novel: Sinclair too often treats his main characters as symbols in a morality tale. There is rather too much of the polemic, an impression reinforced by the disquisition on socialism (in its various forms) that is set out in the final section of the book. Events turned out differently in the US, of course, and the main impact of 'The Jungle' in practical terms came from its authentic and quite graphic details of the adulteration of meat by packers - including the use of diseased meat - revelations that inspired the first food and drug act of 1906.
High praise for this (very inexpensive) kindle version.
An expose of the horrific conditions that existed in Chicago's meat-packing industry at the turn of the century. The true awfulness of slaughtering animals in industrial quantities on the 'killing beds' (I am resolved to remain a vegetarian for the rest of my life!); the adulterated meat which unscrupulous company owners fix up and sell on; the dreaded fertilizer works ('few visitors ever saw them, and the few who did would come out looking like Dante, of whom the peasants declared that he had been in hell'); the pitiful conditions in which early immigrant communities lived; and the sheer criminality of life, where everyone is in someone else's pocket, and the police are in the pay of local businesses. The reader soon observes that just as "they use everything about the hog except the squeal", so too the industrialists get all they can out of their workers before they cast them off as worn out.
The reader follows a family of newly arrived Lithuanian immigrants, headed by Jurgis and his bride Ona. Jurgis sets out determined to succeed: 'Leave it to me. I will earn more money - I will work harder'. Whether they ever make it or go under forms the main part of the book.
I found this a gripping read - Sinclair really brings this world to life. It goes a bit off the boil at the end when Jurgis becomes an ardent Socialist, and in the guise of his attending a lecture or two, Sinclair introduces lengthy harangues on the subject.
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.