The last book I have read was Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle which was a fantastic and interesting read – one of the best I have had lately. It is harder for me to keep reading consistently while studying abroad, but I am happy to have been able to finish this book. It became something that once I picked it up, I was basically unable to put it back down, and it started to become as if I were living in the story which is always, for me, the sign of a great book.
I think that this novel is definitely something that all people should read at one point, for it gives a good perspective on how life used to be in early 1900s America. Although the country is always depicted as “the New Land,” a new start for poorer and more desperate foreigners to escape to, this novel is able to paint the picture of the real United States that they do not show in propaganda. Not only was finding a job virtually impossible at times, but the work became something that could (and at most times would) kill a person. In the afterword and multiple forewords of the book, it is said how all of Sinclair’s facts were proven aside from one about a man falling into a vat of lard and being cooked in. But if the rest of the novel was correct, why would he add one falsity in? The Jungle brings about disturbing realism of how corrupt and greedy Industrial America was, putting the lives of the workers and consumers at risk for the sake of earning more money. Following the life of Jurgis shows that in “Packingtown” there is no honest way to get ahead; one must fall into thievery and swindling to finally start pushing his way up and earning enough money to survive on. But at that point, the money is not used to for survival because the person earning the money has already lost all that there was to survive for. Packingtown creates a vicious cycle where it pulls the people in, tempts them, beats them with tedious and impossible tasks, and then once their resource is completely and utterly exhausted (and most likely fatally injured), they dispose of them and leave them in a place where no one else will want them either. Along with reading this book, I have also been reading The Ethics of What We Eat (although at a much slower pace because although interesting, it is more of a textbook than a novel), which gives a more modern picture of consuming world. Both are eye opening and incredibly interesting for anyone who wants to understand what they are actually eating, and the work and purpose behind it. The Jungle gives a view into a twisted and, personally what I regard as an embarrassing perspective of American history where greed is the omnipotent force ruining the innocent lives of the consumers and those that it has dragged in and refuses to release.
The only part of the novel I did not enjoy was when Sinclair’s views on socialism came in and the reader was beaten over the head with them. Clearly he had very strong opinions to have depicted his protagonist in such a downtrodden way, having every single negative aspect of Packingtown life affect him. However, when he became enlightened by socialism was when Sinclair forgot more about his story and got caught up in his own beliefs. It became a piece of propaganda, but luckily only a hiccup in an otherwise captivating story. One of the forewords said that the characters were unmemorable, but for me their lives dragged me in and were able to make me feel as if I were living in the cold, Chicago winters on little food and little sleep. I think he portrayed America in a perfect light – showing the truth about a country that puts its own reputation on such a pedestal, while refusing to show the negatives even when they can be proven by observation and research.