Upton Sinclair and “The Jungle”

With the intent of drawing attention to the poor working conditions and wages of slaughterhouse workers in Chicago, Upton Sinclair published his muckraking novel, The Jungle, in 1906. His description of the unsanitary and horrifying working conditions were shocking and led to new food safety regulations. “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach, stated Sinclair.

Born in Baltimore in 1878, Sinclair was also involved in left-wing politics. Some of his proceeds from The Jungle were used to indulge in socialist causes. During his lifetime, Sinclair ran for public office many times but was unsuccessful in his attempts to be elected.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, such as H.L. Mencken. Sinclair’s writing style was more sincere and emotional than cynical. The Jungle is of a sentimental nature, which surprises some modern readers who are expecting a harsh tirade against the injustice of the meatpacking industry.

The Jungle was an amazing success and is probably the most famous example of muckraking journalism in the early twentieth century. Because of the book, President Theodore Roosevelt sent aides to investigate Sinclair’s allegations against the meatpacking companies. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration was established to assure the purity of American food.

Excerpt from The Jungle:

When Jurgis had been working about three weeks at Brown’s, there had come to him one noontime a man who was employed as a night watchman, and who asked him if he would not like to take out naturalization papers and become a citizen. Jurgis did not know what that meant, but the man explained the advantages. In the first place, it would not cost him anything, and it would get him half a day off, with his pay just the same; and then when election time came he would be able to vote–and there was something in that. Jurgis was naturally glad to accept, and so the night watchman said a few words to the boss, and he was excused for the rest of the day. When, later on, he wanted a holiday to get married he could not get it; and as for a holiday with pay just the same–what power had wrought that miracle heaven only knew! However, he went with the man, who picked up several other newly landed immigrants, Poles, Lithuanians, and Slovaks, and took them all outside, where stood a great four-horse tallyho coach, with fifteen or twenty men already in it. It was a fine chance to see the sights of the city, and the party had a merry time, with plenty of beer handed up from inside. So they drove downtown and stopped before an imposing granite building, in which they interviewed an official, who had the papers all ready, with only the names to be filled in. So each man in turn took an oath of which he did not understand a word, and then was presented with a handsome ornamented document with a big red seal and the shield of the United States upon it, and was told that he had become a citizen of the Republic and the equal of the President himself.

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