Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Jungle

“Cut corn all day.  Has been a pleasant day.  J. D. McEiwen & wife, Miss Carrie Coe, Will & Libbie, George and Mrs. Williams spent the evening with us.”

Upton Sinclair early in his career
The Jungle is a 1906 novel written by journalist Upton Sinclair. Sinclair wrote the novel to portray the life of the immigrant in the United States, but readers were more concerned with the large portion pertaining to the corruption of the American meatpacking industry during the early-20th century, and the book is now often interpreted and taught as only an exposure of the industry of meatpacking.

Panorama of the beef industry in 1900 by a Chicago-based photographer
The novel depicts in harsh tones poverty, absence of social programs, unpleasant living and working conditions, and hopelessness prevalent among the working class, which is contrasted with the deeply-rooted corruption on the part of those in power. Sinclair's observations of the state of turn-of-the-century labor were placed front and center for the American public to see, suggesting that something needed to be changed to get rid of American wage slavery.

Men walking on wooden rails between cattle pens in the Chicago stockyard (1909)
The novel was first published in serial form in 1905 in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason. It was based on undercover work done in 1904: Sinclair spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards at the behest of the magazine's publishers. He then started looking for a publisher who would be willing to print it in book form. After five rejections by publishers who found it too shocking for publication, he funded the first printing himself. It was published by Doubleday, Page & Company on February 28, 1906 and has been in print ever since.

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