The Jungle
Guy Lochhead, 11/03/12
Novel about a Lithuanian immigrant family trying to survive in the meatpacking district of the Chicago stockyards written by socialist journalist Upton Sinclair in 1906. It was based on undercover research work conducted by the author in 1904. Initially published in Socialist paper Appeal To Reason in 1905, the book was rejected by five publishers as too shocking before Sinclair funded its first printing in 1906. Sinclair’s intentions of realistically depicting life as an immigrant in the American culture of exploitation and wage slavery were not picked up on by the American public, who instead focussed on the exposure of unsanitary practices in the meat industry. Sinclair is often quoted as saying, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” I listened to a Librivox audiobook of this whilst cycling from Woking to Wimbledon every day for a few months and have never been more moved by an audiobook (maybe even a book). As a hysterical piece of sensationalist semi-fiction about wage slavery, it is perfect. As a hysterical piece of sensationalist semi-fiction about food safety, it is flawed. Sadly, this is how the book was received, with great enthusiasm “not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef” but then, “who can thrill the reader with the tale of a man-hunt in which the hunted is a lousy and ignorant foreigner, and the hunters are the germs of consumption, diptheria and typhoid?”. Despite President Roosevelt’s contemporary rejection of the book and dismissal of Sinclair as a “crackpot”, The Jungle has gained a reputation as a set-text in American schools. I feel like this further removes the general readership from the intention of the book. This is a deeply biased Socialist text that will be pretty easily dismissed by readers who are that don’t already share at least some of its concerns. For those undecided, it is probably shocking enough to force some feeling, though, as with its contemporary audience, this may well be more about the food than the workers. For me, it is an excellent piece of all-American written melodrama with a drive and lack of self-censorship that would benefit all honest soaps. I don’t feel it has ever been truly understood or appreciated. I mean, this was written in 1905 FFS.PS, the book was never censored, as See Sharp would have you believe.

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