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An introductive commentary on the jungle of social life

Cynics, as is their wont, quickly pointed out how much easier it was for Mrs Atherton at forty-seven, the widow of a wealthy and socially prominent San Francisco landowner, to preach such austere integrity than it was for young writers like Upton Sinclair and Jack London, who had to support themselves by their writing.

But Mrs Atherton had a splendid case to make, and her analysis of American culture at the turn of the century echoed by Martin Eden: In her opinion, the magazines of the day rejected originality in the subject-matter of the stories they printed, and wanted only acceptable subjects treated in conventional ways. They allowed only a censored view of human nature which, among other things, excluded adult sexuality. Their ideal story was one which would not disturb those with delicate nerves.

The American bourgeoisie was basically responsible for this situation: These were the sorts of books the editors wanted. Among the flurry of replies to Mrs Atherton's article, easily the most passionate was by Upton Sinclair in Collier's Weekly of 8 October 1904.

Sinclair was then twenty-six, and had published four undistinguished novels.

  1. Kipling, has the secret of the branch of gold.
  2. The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book were once enormously popular with children, and even today not many people need to be told who Mowgh and Shere Khan are, though this knowledge must sometimes come only from having seen the Disney film.
  3. From an early age Kingsley Amis p. The major packing houses arranged a cartel to push down the prices paid for the best grade of beef cattle.
  4. Simons, who knew Chicago in great detail and who had written about conditions in the canning factories.
  5. For Sinclair, socialism was embodied in the liberation and transformation of human nature.

His contempt for the bourgeoisie was no less real than Mrs Atherton's, but it lacked her haughty and aristocratic disdain. The bourgeois, he wrote, is well fed himself, his wife is stout, and his children are fine and vigorous. The bourgeois writer has a certain kind of seriousness, of course—the seriousness of a hungry man seeking his dinner; but the seriousness of the artist he does not know. He will roar you as gently as any suckling dove, he will also wring tears from your eyes or thrill you with terror, according as the fashion of the hour suggests; but he knows exactly why he does these things, and he can do them between chats at his club.

If you expected him to act like his heroes, he would think that you were mad. In Europe there was a substantial socialist literature though the figures mentioned by Sinclair were in most cases not socialists at all: The writers he mentions Bliss Carman, Richard LeGallienne and Jack London were, with the exception of London, established men of letters, hardly likely to threaten the social order, and London's most important socialist writings had not yet appeared.

Where Mrs Atherton blamed bourgeois timidity, Sinclair argued that Americans have a capitalist culture, obedient to the interests of capital. The very idea that great art, or a high civilization, could be nourished by an unjust and exploitative society, brings forth from him a moral cry of indignation.

Sinclair was an idealist in matters of culture. The arts belonged to a higher and purer realm of human endeavour than money-grubbing capitalism; but a corrupt society dragged down its highest impulses and cultural ideals: In 1904 Sinclair was a recent convert to socialism, and showed all the convert's passionate conviction. There was little in his background to suggest the likelihood of such a conversion: Sinclair describes his mother as a long-suffering, puritanical woman who scrupulously avoided artificial stimulants like coffee, tea or alcohol.

Brewers and saloon-keepers were the source of unmitigated evil to the young Sinclair, but while at City College he was exposed to other kinds of corruption: I can remember speculating at the age of sixteen whether it could be true that women did actually sell their bodies.

I decided in the negative and held to that idea until I summoned the courage to question one of my an introductive commentary on the jungle of social life in college. The truth, finally made clear, shocked me deeply, and played a great part in the making of my political revolt. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty I explored the situation in New York, and made discoveries that for me were epoch-making.

The saloonkeeper, who had been the villain of my childhood melodrama, was merely a tool and victim of the big liquor interests and politicians and police. The twin bases of the political power of Tammany Hall were saloon graft and the sale of women.

So it was that, in my young soul, love for my father and love for my mother were transmuted into political rage, and I sallied forth at the age of twenty, a young reformer armed for battle.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair - Essay

I despised modern books without having read them, and I expected social evils to be remedied by cultured and well-mannered gentlemen who had been to college and acquired noble ideals. He was soon impressed by the sincerity of Abbott's socialist beliefs, and took away several pamphlets and magazines to read. Abbott brought Sinclair along to meet John Spargo, editor of the International Socialist Review, and the young writer was soon drawn into the party. The effect of meeting socialists seems to have been electrifying: It was like the falling down of prison walls about my mind; the amazing discovery, after all those years, that I did not have to carry the whole burden of humanity's future upon my two frail shoulders!

There were actually others who understood; who saw what had gradually become clear to me, that the heart and centre of evil lay in leaving the social treasure, which nature had created and which every man has to have in order to live, to become the object of a scramble in the market place, a delirium of speculation. The principal fact the socialists had to teach me was that they themselves existed. Herron, the Indiana congregational minister and socialist writer whose sensational divorce and remarriage to Carrie Rand in 1901 had ended his career in the ministry.

Herron made Sinclair a cash gift of several hundred dollars, and a small sum each month until the project was completed. It enabled Sinclair to keep afloat as a writer, and relieved him of the hack work by which he had supported himself in the past. Manassas did not reflect Sinclair's conversion to socialism, but his next book, The Jungle, became the most an introductive commentary on the jungle of social life and influential novel written by a socialist in America.

The idea for a study of wage slavery came from the editor of a right-wing socialist weekly, The Appeal to Reason. Sinclair would be free to make his own arrangements for book publication, translation and foreign rights.

He set out for Chicago in October 1904, where he spent seven weeks talking to workers, walking around the plants where butchery had been developed into an industrial technique. The simple act of carrying a lunchpail seemed to grant him unrestricted access to the stockyards.

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One of the first people he spoke to was Algie M. Simons, who knew Chicago in great detail and who had written about conditions in the canning factories. There had been two general strikes.

One, in 1886, was led by the Knights of Labor and resulted in the complete destruction of the union movement in the stockyards and packing houses. For fifteen years union members were hounded and eliminated from the industry. The second major strike, in 1894, was spontaneous and unorganized.

The unions began to return to the stockyards by the turn of the century, and in 1904 the skilled butchers went on strike on behalf of the unskilled labourers, specifically over a claim for a combined scale of pay for all departments and classes of labour. This was a remarkable show of class consciousness and solidarity, particularly since the skilled workers were mainly immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Bohemia, whereas the unskilled were Lithuanians, Slovaks, Poles and Blacks.

It was finally defeated when men were brought in from the five major packers' other factories, and when Greeks and Blacks were brought in for the unskilled jobs. In 1914 Sinclair travelled to Colorado with a similar purpose. But Sinclair seems to have preferred to take a long-term view of the stockyards, and particularly of the substitution of ethnic groups which had led, by the turn of the century, to the arrival of great numbers of Lithuanians in Chicago to work in the stockyards.


It was from the most recent immigrants that Sinclair chose his characters, and their experiences in Chicago constitute his story. All that survives in The Jungle of the 1904 strike is told through Jurgis's eyes at a time when he was a strike-breaker and agent provocateur; neither the specific issues nor the history of the struggle of the workers appear in his novel.

The most complete account of his activities in Chicago appeared in an interview he gave to Frederick Boyd Stevenson in Wilshire's Magazine in August 1906. I really had no need to study the lives of the people, for the poverty of the characters in the book are the experiences of my own life, only metamorphosed.

Three times I went through the packinghouses. The first time I went through with ordinary visitors and saw just what the proprietors cared to show us. On the next occasion I went through with the correspondent of the London Lancet [Adolph Smith], who is an expert sanitarian, and has been through the abattoirs of all the important cities of the world.

He told me that never in all his life had he seen such abominations as he had witnessed in the Chicago slaughter houses. An introductive commentary on the jungle of social life said he would not believe that such horrible atrocities had existed since the Dark Ages.

But the key that opened the most doors to me was Socialism. Representatives of the packing houses, and their interests, immediately attempted to discredit Sinclair's account of the unsanitary conditions. In reply, Sinclair prepared affidavits, eye-witness accounts, legal records and other circumstantial material.

He defended The Jungle in terms of verifiable truth. In the Wilshire's interview Sinclair explained how he heard of some of the more gruesome details: One night I sat in the kitchen of a Hungarian cattle-butcher whose hands were so slashed with deep knife-cuts that he could not use his thumbs, and he gave to me all the details of a man's daily life on the killing beds.

And the next night I sat in the back room of a saloon and listened to the story of a man who had worked in the fertilizer mill where, in the month of November, out of 126 men, only six had been able to continue. The claims he made for the book were unequivocal.

For many years Sinclair's novel was a model of what literature ought to be in the eyes of radicals.

  1. I can remember speculating at the age of sixteen whether it could be true that women did actually sell their bodies.
  2. Jurgis's picaresque career takes him from the life of an ex-convict and fertilizer worker to his later experiences as a smart thief, political operator and labour scab.
  3. The elements of moral instruction, which are certainly not alien to a child's world, are systematized.
  4. They negotiated preferential terms with the railroads which were denied to shippers of live cattle. The twin bases of the political power of Tammany Hall were saloon graft and the sale of women.
  5. Yet belief in the capacity for change, so much a central feature of the socialist imagination in America, kept Sinclair by main force from a Zolaesque conclusion.

In the interview in Wilshire's he denied that there was anything imaginary or invented about the characters. He had seen them all at a Lithuanian wedding party in Chicago: This man, identified by Sinclair as Adolph Smith, was engaged in a similar exercise in investigative reporting.

His reports in the Lancet for two years, beginning with the issue of 24 December 1904, were of such detail and seriousness that the United States government issued a formal reply which Smith rebutted in the issues of 14 July and 29 December 1906. The Lancet could not be silenced or discredited in the fashion the meatpacking industry sought to do with Sinclair, and Smith's reports were believed to have resulted in legislation banning meat and especially pork imports from Chicago: Sinclair had the Lancet reports available to him while writing The Jungle, and in follow-up articles on 9 June and 29 December 1906, the Lancet referred to Sinclair's role as reinforcing their own, prior indictment.

But the Lancet was not the first to bring to public notice the conditions in the stockyards. Nor were Smith's reports, especially those published in January 1905, the only source available to Sinclair. In 1899 Algie M. Simons, who had been assigned the stockyard district by the Bureau of Charities in Chicago, published a propaganda tract, Packingtown, which may have suggested some aspects of Sinclair's approach.

Simons discussed the stockyards as a an introductive commentary on the jungle of social life might experience them, and tried to explain the industrial process which they represented. Ernest Poole published a sketch of the experiences of a Lithuanian immigrant who settled in Chicago and worked in the stockyards Independent, 4 August 1904.

Sinclair, in fact, turns out not to have been the discoverer of the problem so much as a successful dramatizer of the issues. It would be unkind to suggest that he exploited the conditions in the stockyards, because the problems were of such magnitude that any definition of the public interest would accept the legitimacy of his interest. The American public was selective and intermittent in its attention to the complaints of reformers and muckrakers.

There was a major scandal during the Spanish-American War over the quality of tinned beef shipped to the army in Cuba. Shrewd bribery and effective public relations, though on a less scientific basis and on a smaller scale than that conducted on behalf of the Rockefeller interests described in Chapter 3kept the public profile of the meatpacking industry generally below the horizon of concern.

The Trust was undoubtedly a mighty force in Chicago life, and, when Lloyd was writing, was becoming an increasingly potent factor in national politics. The industry was a comparatively new one, made possible by the invention of the refrigerator car in the 1870s. The major packing houses arranged a cartel to push down the prices paid for the best grade of beef cattle. At the same time the Trust undermined competitors who continued to butcher their own cattle by undercutting prices, threatening to open rival businesses, and by the usual forms of intimidation employed by cartels.

They negotiated preferential terms with the railroads which were denied to shippers of live cattle. But the idea that the packing houses were blankly hostile to inspection would seem to be incorrect. They saw the inspection of meat as a desirable protection against foreign competition, especially from Argentina; it was also to the advantage of the Beef Trust as against their smaller competitors within America.