Posted by: history591seventeen | April 4, 2009

Socialism Finds a Voice

            The fact that Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is a work of fiction makes it a very affective piece of propaganda. As one reads it, one gets lost in the story as one does in any good novel, but then one begins to be concerned for the characters in The Jungle. The struggles they go through are unbelievable; at least that is what one wants to believe and then Sinclair begins to work his magic. The reader gets caught between reality and fiction. Sinclair does a great job of developing this relationship by using factual information intertwined with fictional information. For example, Sinclair named the packing plants that he referred to in The Jungle. Durham was the name used for Armour, Brown was the name used for Swift, and Jones was the name used for Morris (ix). In Chicago’s history, this is also the time when unions were just beginning to develop and become a part of the work place. Sinclair included union formation throughout The Jungle as well.

            In the introduction, Sinclair explained the cafeteria/tavern situation, which became such a turning point for one of the main characters, Jurgis Redkus. First the tavern served him as a place to eat lunch like other workers, because the processing plant did not have a cafeteria. Then Jurgis used the tavern as a place in which he could reach fellow workers when he campaigned for a Republican candidate named Scotty Doyle. Lastly the tavern became a place where he could hide and drink his troubles away just like many other unemployed workers stated in the text. It is easy for readers to relate to Jurgis in these situations and feel how mistreated he was by the company.

            Any way, the story begins as the family is planning Ona and Jurgis’ wedding. Sinclair goes in to great detail about the cultural traditions that the characters feel must be followed; along with the money it will cost this immigrant family to observe these customs. This information added the personal touch to the story.

            The author then explained that there were so many immigrants in Chicago in this time period, and Sinclair pointed out that if workers had any problems getting to work, staying at work, etc.., they were just replaced, or fired, not given notice, just eliminated, because there was literally someone outside ready to take the job (19). Young Jurgis was strong and did not believe he would ever have trouble getting a job; he felt he would always be able to provide for his family, but as time goes on these characters have many hardships.

            However, Sinclair allows them to first experience the American dream of owning their own home. There are many details about how these immigrants, not understanding the language, try to comprehend the contract they sign, so as not to be taken advantage of as others have, for Mrs. Jukiene, their first landlady warned them of some of the tricks people might play on them. However, in the end they lose the house anyway. 

            After moving in to the house, the family began to furnish the home. This information makes the story even more personal to the readers, and this expense also uses up even more of the family’s hard earned money. It became apparent that these people just were not making it and the company and society were to blame. This was also a sign of the times; many immigrants were having a hard time in big cities like Chicago making ends meet. Therefore, this story was great propaganda for the time period.

            Sinclair also included many details about the mishandling of meats made by the different packing houses. He gave details about how Durham’s would get their inspector distracted and talking, and then they would kind of move the “tubercular pork” behind him in a way to get the meat passed regardless of its quality (37).

            Sinclair seemed to have his characters ride the rollercoaster of life. They experienced many difficulties. Some of the many hardships came in the way of family members dying. First was the death of Jurgis’ father, Antanas. He was explained as a hard working man who could not find a job. When he did become employed the work he had to do disgusted him terribly; one job he did was to clean out the pipes of meat waste. Then he was instructed to add to the meat on the already loaded trucks (60). Antanas was always cold and wet; he ended up catching a cold that actually killed him. When he died, the family hardly had enough money to give him a funeral (77). This situation is another way Sinclair brings this story home to the reader, for death and funerals are something most people must deal with at sometime in their life.

            The family faced many difficulties in dealing with employers and in the beginning of this tale the family viewed joining a union as only a waste of money, but as events played out, Jurgis could see the usefulness of joining. He and the other members started paying union dues, and Jurgis even attended meetings. Through this new relationship Jurgis saw the corruption of the politics of the time. Sinclair used Jurgis’ experience to make readers aware of what may be occurring around them.

            Sinclair continued telling readers the ups and downs this family experienced. Towards the end, Jurgis basically lost everything. Ona and  a baby died and his son, Antanas, named after his father, drowned. However, when Jurgis has nothing, and no place to go, he ended up at a meeting where Socialism is being preached (300). This new thing-Socialism became Jurgis’ saving grace, for it ended up providing him with a job and a calling. Therefore, Sinclair used the hardships of this immigrant family to promote the ideas of Socialism saving society from the corruption that was occurring in 1900 Century Chicago. Clearly, Sinclair presented his one-sided tale and made his audience feel for these people by making many personal connections, which made The Jungle a very affective piece of propaganda.





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