The Jungle tells the story of a family of Lithuanian immigrants who come to America in order to fulfill the “American Dream.” After coming to the United States, the families slowly realizes that America isn’t what it really seems to be. The Jungle provides a third-person view of the daily routines, struggles, and hardships of Jurgis and his family.
There are many misfortunes that occur to this certain family which keeps them on their knees. Throughout this paper, the reader will view a segment of American society that was affected by the details of this book, as well as an explanation of Sinclair’s view on Capitalism. The title of this book gives you a first impression of curiosity. At that time, America was basically like a jungle where strong predators attack the weaker prey and everyone is in competition for survival. Most of the time this situation is referred to as “Survival of the Fittest.” Capitalism is a type of economic system in which businesses are privately owned and run by the people rather than the government (Nelson, “Money and Finance: Capitalism”). There are several cases in The Jungle where this Lithuanian family experience tragedies and failure due to the effects of capitalism.
Jurgis starts out as a strong individual, but is broken down physically and mentally by the poor hazardous working conditions in Packingtown. Upton Sinclair uses many symbols to represent how corrupt America is due to the effects of capitalism. Sinclair uses the daily routines of the slaughterhouses to show how corrupt the economic system of capitalism was. As written, “And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway,” (Sinclair, p.37). The hogs represented the human in an instance.
Just as the animals were made to suffer, die, and have no choice about their life, so are the individuals within the working class. Thousands of animals pass through each day to be slaughtered and replaced by even more, just as the millions of immigrants who are broken down physically and emotionally through the amounts of work and the oppression of capitalism. The American Dream implies that if you work hard, then you will be able to do great things. Sinclair uses this book to illustrate these obstacles between working class and higher class. Things such as lack of education and familiarity with the government all things that capitalism uses against you. The family’s experience with misfortune following Jurgis’ arrest hints the beginning of the family “fall apart.” Jurgis and his family were now blacklisted, which kept them from ever getting a job within the meatpacking industry, as well as the ability to care for themselves and their family. They lost their home in lieu of little to no income.
The family withers away losing almost everything, as well as some family members. The family splits with the individuals now caring for themselves instead of eachother, all because a handful of corrupt, wealthy people have the power to ruin the lives of those below. Rotten cans of meat is one of the best examples that Upton Sinclair uses in the The Jungle. The cans are all decorative on the outside, but when you explore what’s inside you resent ever opening it.
In the same way, American capitalism presents stunning things to immigrants, but in the end the America they really see is rotten and corrupt. Businesses selling rotten meat led to an outrage about the unsanitary quality of meats that were being consumed by human beings. This caught the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt and he ordered an immediate investigation of the meat packing industry. Within months of the investigation, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were both proposed, later becoming new laws on June 30th, 1906 (Upton Sinclair–“The Jungle”). Both of these would improve the quality of food and meat, as well as hold packers and slaughterhouses to higher standards. This was a very important event during the Progressive Era, as people now depended more on the government to make changes, as well as watch the government take more control in businesses (Foist, “The Jungle and The Progressive Era”). “To Jurgis the packers had been equivalent to fate; Ostrinski showed him that they were the Beef Trust.
They were a gigantic combination of capital, which had crushed all opposition, and overthrown the laws of the land, and was preying upon the people” (Sinclair, p.337). Jurgis now realized how corrupt these individuals were; and how they were destroying the lives of others. He realized that capitalism was to blame for the destruction of his life. It was this very moment when Jurgis turned to socialism for support.
Sinclair proposes the idea that socialism would fix what capitalism destroyed, including the monopolies and how they affect the lives of those tied up within. Upton Sinclair and Adam Smith, author of Wealth of Nations, very much differed with their ideology. Smith promoted minimal government interference, with a laissez faire type of economic system, along with free trade. Adam Smith tells that these are the things we need to make our country wealthy (“The Wealth of Nations”). The Jungle shows that Sinclair wanted complete governmental regulations and controls. Sinclair believed that America should be the land of opportunity for all individuals. He despised the unfair treatment of the working class and economic inequality.
Sinclair believed that Socialism was the best way for people to achieve their goals. Upton Sinclair promotes socialism, while Adam Smith persuades you to believe in capitalism. “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” were words from Upton Sinclair after writing The Jungle. This book gave us a clear definition of capitalism, as well as its effects on the population. This novel is best known for exposing the horrific conditions in the meatpacking industry.
However, the novel goes beyond this issue to reveal all of the corruption and abuse the immigrants faced in the process. During this time, there were definitely better solutions, as we see the author thought it was socialism. The Jungle led to many changes within our society. Without the actions of Upton Sinclair, we would not be the world we are today.