The Jungle Dover Thrift Editions by Upton Sinclair - The Horrors Of Laissez-Faire Capitalism by kellyp990


									The Jungle (Dover Thrift Editions) by
          Upton Sinclair

                             One Of My Favorites

best-seller shockingly reveals intolerable labor practices and unsanitary
working conditions in the Chicago stockyards as it tells the brutally grim
story of a Slavic family that emigrates to America full of optimism but soon
descends into numbing poverty, moral degradation, and despair. A fiercely
realistic American classic that will haunt readers long after theyve finished
the last page.

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Muckraking is a word which originates from an illusion to Pilgrim's
Progress, made in a speech by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, at about the
time this novel was first published. The novel remains a classic and
effective polemic which exposed corruption in the meat packing plants, as
well as the political process, in Chicago. There are no paeans to the "broad
shoulders," of Chicago, a la Carl Sandberg, here. The "high note" of the
novel is at the beginning, a Lithuanian wedding within a community of
recent immigrants. And it is all down hill from there, a relentless and
depressing read, which would stop the "fun read" or "searching for uplifting
message" crowd cold, after about 40 pages. The protagonist, a strong,
young man from the forests of Lithuania is Jurgis Rudkus, and Sinclair
depicts him initially as optimistic, a believer in the system of hard work, a
person always willing to take on more, and without the vices of the laboring
class, like the need for alcohol. Furthermore, he is supported by a hard-
working, caring family, but even with all these virtues and advantages, they
are always living on the "edge" of financial disaster, and one bad break,
like an accident at work, causes them to lose their pitiful little house. A
situation which resonates with numerous Americans today.
I first read "The Jungle" some 40 years ago, and as with some other books
have decided to re-read to determine how my impressions have changed
in the meantime. In part the impetus for the selection was an article about
a recent raid on the largest kosher meat packing pla nt in the States, in
Iowa, which revealed a workforce of almost all illegal immigrants working in
appalling conditions. Some workers were underage; some were working as
long as 17 hour a day. That article, plus the latest meat recall, due to e
coli, and I had to think: Wasn't all this addressed and resolved by Sinclair's
novel, the resultant creation of the Food and Drug Administration, and the
enactment of certain labor laws? Clearly not.

As other reviewers have noted, the novel takes a sudden shift in t he last
50 pages, once Rudkus has hit bottom, and turns into fervent political
advocacy for the Socialist Party. Although "Newsweek" famously headlined
recently that now we are all Socialists, after the enormous bailouts of Wall
Street and the auto industry, the word remains an epithet in most American
political circles. Initially I too found Sinclair's style grating, enough to dock a
star, but then the content, written over a hundred years ago, seemed to
tumble out of today's headlines. Consider the recent spate of "family value"
politicians caught, if you will, with their pants down, there is: "The president
of the Florida Flying Machine Company is in jail for bigamy. He was a
prominent opponent of Socialism, which he said would break up the
home!" Some 50 years ahead of Vance Packard's books, Sinclair says:
"When one comes to the ultra-modern profession of advertising... the
science of persuading people to buy what they do not want, he is in the
very center of the ghastly charnel-house of capitalist destructiveness..."
Clearly Sinclair could not have anticipated that America's health care
expenditures would be 15% of GDP, while the other major industrialized
countries do it for half that, but he did say: "Then take the whole business
of insurance, the enor mous mass of administrative and clerical labor it
involves, and all utter waste..." Likewise, Sinclair could not have
anticipated the outbreak of diabetes in America, and the number of its
citizens that are overweight, but he did say: "...that most of the ills of the
human system are due to overfeeding!" In terms of research: "For this
reason I would seriously maintain that all the medical and surgical
discoveries that science can make in the future will be of less importance
that the application of knowledge we already possess, when the
disinherited of the earth have established their right to a human existence."
There are numerous other prescient insights, but I'll conclude with: "In
America everyone had laughed at the mere idea of Socialism then--in
America all men were free. As if political liberty made wage slavery any the
more tolerable!"

And so I finally realized that it was the last 50 pages that made the book an
essential read, even again, and worth the full 5-stars.

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