The Jungle Analysis
I feel extremely fortunate that as a whole, working today families do not experience as
many tragedies as the characters in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle experienced during the
beginning of the 20th century. While reading The Jungle I learned that the rights and welfare
of the average American working man and woman have dramatically increased over the past
hundred years. Although some of the same social, economic, and political problems still occur
in our society, the problems are far less prevalent than they were during the time Sinclair
wrote The Jungle.
The novel follows the lives a large Lithuanian family during the early 1900s that
immigrates to the United States in the pursuit of freedom and happiness. The family of eleven
took what little money they had with them to the United States with the hope of escaping
poverty and providing a better life for their children. After a long, arduous journey across the
Atlantic Ocean, the family arrived in New York and was swindled out most of their savings by
police who were supposed to protect them. The family continued to travel to Chicago
(Packingtown), where they finally settled down. Upon arrival in Packingtown, the family
found that the cost of living in the United States was far more expensive than in Lithuania. To
further add to the family’s dismay, they learned that the only employment available to
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non-English speaking, uneducated, and hardworking immigrants like themselves in
Packingtown was scarce, unstable, arduous, and dangerous.
Packingtown was designed to make families dependent on working in factories. When
an employee in a factory hurt themselves or was fell ill, they would quickly be tossed aside
and filled with a fresh worker. Employers in Packingtown demanded 16 hour workdays from
their employees and rewarded them with meat infected with tuberculosis, low wages, and
fatigue. Large businesses were able to commit such atrocities because they paid off
politicians, police, and union leaders. Another reason employers were able to treat their
employees so badly was because unemployment was so high. There was a constant supply of
working men and women to fill any persons job who may quit out of protest.
Politicians had no desire to address the needs of their constituents and only had their
own special interests in mind. Both the Democrat and Republican Parties bought votes and
manipulated countless elections. The Democrat party was among the biggest offenders and
was also the largest party in Packingtown. Men who held political office weren’t fresh young
men who were elected every couple of years, they were the same, elder incumbents who had
held office for 30 years or more. Although these incumbents had experience, they were often
jaded and usually looked out for their interests first, large business interests second, and the
working peoples interests last.
One of the most tragic concepts I found in Sinclair’s novel was the class system. At
present we have the privilege to strive for a better life and attempt to better ourselves
economically through education. During the early 1900’s, most of the people were born and
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died in the same class. The gap between the rich and the poor was extremely large and there
was hardly any middle class citizens. Many of the immigrant families who flocked to the
United States during the time actually left better circumstances in their home countries to
work in places like Packingtown which killed men by overworking them.
I found it extremely saddening to read about how the large Lithuanian family arrived
in the United States with dignity, integrity, and determination only to loose it all to
Packingtown. One of the main reasons why I feel the main character of the novel, Jurgis,
embraced the Communist Party with such passion as he did was because he had experienced
every social ill which the United States had offered at the time. His wife was forced into
prostitution, his child died from neglect, many of his loved ones died from overwork and
starvation, and countless friends and other family members continued to live the rest of their
lives working in the slaughterhouses of Packingtown.
The Communist Party was so popular at the time because citizens found that the
Republican and Democrat parties weren’t doing enough for them. The Communist Party was
built on the platform of helping the working men and women of the United States. Voters
responded overwhelmingly in favor of Communism because they were tired of being
mistreated by big businesses through the country. Although Communism was never a major
political force in the United States for an extended period of time, I believe it sent a message
to the major parties to reform or be thrown out by a non-corrupted party.
Upon completion of The Jungle I found it extremely amazing how quickly technology
and legislation has proved safer, cleaner, and less strenuous work environments in less then a
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hundred years. I credit the change of work conditions and environments to not only the
politicians and inventors in this country, but to the working men and women who killed
themselves trying to provide a better life for their families.
Word Count: 862