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The Jungle: The Human Hogs and Cogs of the Chicago Meat Packing Trust

Updated December 28, 2021
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The Jungle: The Human Hogs and Cogs of the Chicago Meat Packing Trust essay

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Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, which was published by Doubleday Jabber & Company, horrified the American public at the time, as it exposed the plight of immigrants under the insatiable greed of trusts. Based on events that the author experienced when he went undercover in the Chicago stockyards, The Jungle followed the journey of an immigrant protagonist and his family, as they rushed into the Chicago Meat Packing Trust. There, Jurgis Rudkus and countless other immigrants became no different than the hogs they killed, eventually being worn down to death, prostitution, homelessness, and starvation. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was a brutally raw novel about the Chicago Meat-Packing Trust that connected the reader and immigrant protagonist in such a degree that both were exposed to the tragedies in the storyline.

Jurgis Rudkus, envisioning the American Dream with his lover, Ona, immigrated from Lithuania to the Chicago Stockyards in America. Initially, Jurgis proudly embraced his role in the monstrous machine of the Chicago Meatpacking Industry. After seeing the “long line of hogs, with squeals and lifeblood ebbing away together … [vanishing] with a splash into a huge vat of boiling water,” (29), Jurgis muttered, “‘Dieve- but I’m glad I’m not a hog’” (30). But after a series of unfortunate events, Jurgis became unemployed and aware of the filth and corruption surrounding him. Jurgis sadly experienced the death of his wife, Ona, and his babies, and fought his wife’s rapist in a losing battle. As he couldn’t cope with being the victim, Jurgis even became part of the meatpackers’ henchmen to survive. But in the end, at his darkest hour, Jurgis stumbled into the refuge of socialism, and received it crying, with open arms.

Upton Sinclair used the mediocre storyline of The Jungle as a vessel to introduce a variety of revolting, and historically accurate facts. The Jungle may be even considered as a primary source of history, for the author based his facts on the research he gathered while working undercover as muckraker in the Chicago stockyards. Using his research, Upton Sinclair described that, “a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats,” (112). To kill rats, packers poisoned the rats with bread, and the “rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together” (112).

Although writing a historical fiction novel from personal judgement and experience may be biased, for the most part, The Jungle was historically accurate. The American public’s reaction to The Jungle was so outraged, that a federal investigation was put into place in 1906. Investigators confirmed most of the facts in The Jungle. It is also true to say that some points were exaggerated to create more shock and disgust. Facts were carefully placed along the order of the storyline, so that Sinclair could introduce the beauty of socialism to a working-class man at the end. Exaggerations were made when, Marija told Jurgis that little Stanislovas died in his sleep since, “‘the rats had killed him and eaten him nearly all up’” (280).

The Jungle made the reader more mortified than entertained. It went through cycles of despair and unexpected tragedies. The Jungle was not meant to be a pretty plot, and the reader progressively becomes connected with Jurgis Rudkus. The characters itself were not very believable, and were undefined and open to interpretation. Upton Sinclair purposefully didn’t characterize Jurgis much, and focused on his thoughts and emotions. The reader builds on the two-dimensional character with their own feelings. By finding a connection between emotion, the reader and the protagonist become one. This connection between the reader and the protagonist is so well established by Upton Sinclair’s indirect characterization that the plot happening to Jurgis is felt by the reader. They both experience grief from historical facts, bringing history alive.

The pain that the reader and protagonist go through together is what makes The Jungle powerful. For example, the reader was mournful when Jurgis, as he watched his wife die, was “gone away himself, stumbling through the shadows, and groping after the souls that had fled” (185). The Jungle was also aimed to make the reader uncomfortable. The intended audience at the time were ignorant of all the horrors that happened in American trusts. They were the consumers to this hideous cycle, and a part of them felt that they were part of the problem.

The Jungle was a historically accurate novel that exposed the horrors that were ongoing at the time of its publication. Upton Sinclair truly created a turbulent masterpiece that exposed both the reader and the protagonist on a journey of despair. Inside the storyline were accurate historical facts that led to emotional bondings between the protagonist and reader. The Jungle put the filth, horror, and corruption of the Chicago Meat-packing Trust into the limelight by weaving tragic, historical facts into an experience both the character and reader felt.

The Jungle is recommended for mature readers. It has much historical significance, as a book that not only brought much political reform to the United States, but one that serves as a haunting reminder of the various reform needed in the food industry today, after a century of its publication. Reading the grotesque stories of the meat-packing industry may be uncomfortable. But through this depressing storyline, the reader is also able to cope and connect their own troubles with the grief that Jurgis and other immigrants had to face.

The Jungle: The Human Hogs and Cogs of the Chicago Meat Packing Trust essay

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The Jungle: The Human Hogs and Cogs of the Chicago Meat Packing Trust. (2021, Dec 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-jungle-the-human-hogs-and-cogs-of-the-chicago-meat-packing-trust/

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