The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was first published in 1906, a time when immigrants were flowing into America and living conditions were dreadful. The book follows Jurgis Rudkus, his wife, Ona, and their extended family as they try to start a new life in Packingtown, Chicago. To them, as to most immigrants, America was suppose to be a place full of opportunities, when in reality it was mostly lies and scams. For the family, nothing seems to be going right. In fact, it seems that everything that could go wrong does. Still, the novel really shows what it was like for immigrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They certainly had their share of issues and struggles they had to work through and that can be seen in The Jungle. Sinclair wrote the novel to show the American people the horrors of factory work during that time, especially in the meat industry. He was actually successful in his cause because his book led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.
Let me just say, this is one of my all-time favorite novels. I read it over the summer, but I had to write a review for it. I’ll admit, when I first looked up this book to see if it would be something that I wanted to read, I honestly wasn’t that impressed. I mean, meat packing in Chicago? Sounds exciting, right? However, after I picked this book up, I fell in love. The beginning was a bit slow, but after the first few chapters it quickly picked up. At times, it was gruesome. This book is not for those with a weak stomach, because Sinclair spares no details. Just be warned, if you do choose to read this, expect some nasty descriptions.
Another interesting characteristic is the fact that the book is written in a journalistic style. It makes sense because Sinclair was a journalist, but the sentences and ideas are to the point. Sinclair does use a lot more description when compared to dialogue, but he never spends an incredible amount of time on one subject. This is something I appreciated, because I hate when the author drags the same idea on for pages and pages.
Sinclair did a wonderful job creating the characters. It is a bit confusing to follow them all in the beginning, because there are quite few, so it would have been helpful to have a family tree in the beginning of the book that shows the relationship between all of the characters. Still, as the book continued and everything kept taking a turn for the worst, I sympathized with them. Especially Jurgis, whose life just didn’t seem to be getting any better. Overall, the characters were amazingly crafted, because Sinclair definitely did a brilliant job of capturing the hardships that many immigrants faced.
Overall, this was one of the most amazing books that I have ever read. It opened my eyes to what the life was like for the lower classes during that time period. It was something that I never stopped and thought about. I mean, these people worked for hours on end, only to get paid maybe one, two dollars a day. It really made me appreciate a lot of what I have today, because I can’t imagine having to go through what Jurgis and his family did. If you get a chance to read this book, you definitely should! You won’t be disappointed.
"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach." ~Upton Sinclair, on his novel The Jungle