In 1906 Upton Sinclair’s historical novel the Jungle originally sounded the clarion call about the horrendous abuses which characterized the meat packing industry at the time. The book raised awareness about the horrendous practices in the meat factories. It was a catalyst for social and political change as the government created laws to abolish the practice of abusing immigrant labour and selling tainted meat. Sinclair’s novel narrated the story of poor immigrants who worked in meat packaging factories for very low wages.
Since the immigrants did not speak or understand English it was very easy for the factory owners to cheat them out of their wages. The workers worked long hard hours for meagre wages which were often cut and were also not paid for any extra or partial work they did. The workers were forced to work at increased pay and this factor combined with the fact that most of these workers were unskilled resulted in a high incidence of injury. And, for this, at the end of the week, he will carry home three dollars to his family, being his pay at the rate of five cents per hour. ” (Sinclair, 85) The books give horrendous accounts of the animals being shackled and led to the slaughterhouse. In Sinclair’s book the animals are knocked unconscious by the knocker and then lead to another person who slits their throat.
Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it–it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life. ” (Sinclair, 41) In the Jungle Sinclair also described a highly unhygienic practice of processing meat and even recounted an occasion when a nails fell into the meat. Further Sinclair describes how the meat was often sprayed with chemicals to disguise the age of the meat.
All day long the blazing midsummer sun beat down upon that square mile of abominations: upon tens of thousands of cattle crowded into pens whose wooden floors stank and steamed contagion; upon bare, blistering, cinder-strewn railroad tracks and huge blocks of dingy meat factories, whose labyrinthine passages defied a breath of fresh air to penetrate them; and there are not merely rivers of hot blood and carloads of moist flesh, and rendering-vats and soup cauldrons, glue-factories and fertilizer tanks, that smelt like the craters of hell-there are also tons of garbage festering in the sun, and the greasy laundry of the workers hung out to dry and dining rooms littered with food black with flies, and toilet rooms that are open sewers. ” (Sinclair, 328) Sinclair was an activist whose intention in writing the book was not to render a factual account of malpractice in the meat packing industry.
His book was a work of fiction which used fictional characters in fictional settings to illustrate to a lesser extent the horrors of the meat packing industry but to a greater extent the nightmare that were faced by new immigrants in the pursuit of the American dream. Sinclair’s novel told the tragic story of a Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus who came to America to find a better of life for himself but ended up being caught in a web of corrupt business practise in a capitalistic society. The book does have socialist undertones and dwells at length at the problems faced by the working class people at the hands of a greedy capitalist system which doesn’t guard or protect their interests.
In the book the focus was not on the meat packing industry at all. Rather the focus was on the portrayal of life as an immigrant worker in a capitalist society which exploited the rights of these workers. “Here is a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances, immorality is exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it is under the system of chattel slavery. ” (Sinclair, 126). In addition to working for the meat packing industry the protagonist Jurgis also worked a mill worker and a union advocate.
The true atrocity of this novel was not the unsafe business practices of the meat industry but the way a greedy and corrupt Capitalist system mistreated a poor immigrant who came to its shores for a better life. “They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside. It was not less tragic because it was so sordid, because that it had to do with wages and grocery bills and rents. They had dreamed of freedom; of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent and clean, to see their child group up to be strong. And now it was all gone-it would never be! ” (Sinclair, 163). Ironically the true intent of the book was lost on many of its readers who were shocked and disgusted by the conditions in the meat packing plants.
It is surprising that though its description of the meat packing industry covered a few pages in the book this what the book is most famous for- its portrayal of the Chicago meat packing plants. “This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat will be shovelled into carts and the man who did the shovelling will not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one. ” (Sinclair, 162). When Sinclair wrote the Jungle on the other hand he did not anticipate or campaign for a social revolution in food regulation. The changes that happened were an unintended consequence that were bought by the horror and disgust that the American people felt for the practices revealed in the book. The Jungle advocates the cause of labour unions and how they can be used to fight for the rights of poor immigrant labour.
It dwells deeper into a socialist mindset and suggests how the capitalistic society is responsible for the despair that these poor immigrants face. “He has no wit to trace back the social crime to its far sources-he could not say that it is the thing men have called “the system” that is crushing him to the earth; that it is the packers, his masters, who has dealt their brutal will to him from the seat of justice. ” (Sinclair, 191). The main protagonist of the novel Jurgis finds a new purpose in life when he joins the socialist movement and the book closes on a socialist overtone “To you, the toilers, who have made this land, and have no voice in its councils!
To you, whose lot it are to sow that others may reap, to labour and obey, and ask no more than the wages of a beast of burden, the food and shelter to keep you alive from day to day. It is to you that I come with my message of salvation, it is to you that I appeal. ” (Sinclair, 361) The Jungle is a powerful and inspirational book. It has acted as a catalyst for social and legislative reforms and has contributed greatly to improving the working conditions of workers in the meat industry and the quality of the meat that we consume. It is interesting to note that though it was written with an anti capitalist sentiment and with the intention to advocate the communist viewpoint, today it serves as one of the most prominent voices against the repulsive practices of the beef industry.