Sarah's Reviews > Oil!

Oil! by Upton Sinclair
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Jun 22, 11

Read in October, 2008

Don’t be deceived by the little byline on the front of new printings of this novel that says “The Inspiration for the Paramount blah blah blah movie ‘There Will Be Blood’.” From what I’ve heard from people who have seen the movie – this book is nothing like the film. In general theme, possibly, and they’ve stolen some of the characters’ names to use for their own purposes. But this is the extent of the similarity.

This is mostly the story of the rise and fall of the James Arnold Ross oil fortune as seen through the eyes of James Arnold Ross Jr. – called “Bunny” throughout the book. Bunny is completely an innocent idealist. He fails to recognize the majority of his father’s dealings are dirty and his belief in the inherent goodness of people is only reinforced when he meets up with Paul Watkins. Paul is several years his senior and the eldest son in a very poor and very religious family. Bunny is mostly interested in Paul’s seemingly pure spirit and when Paul mentions his family’s house sits on land that could be a big oil field, Bunny uses this information to get his father interested in the land simply so he can help out Paul’s impoverished family.

While investigating the land, Bunny also becomes acquainted with Ruth, Paul’s devoted sister, and Eli, Paul’s fervently religious brother. These individuals play pivotal roles as the concepts of light and dark, dirty and pure are explored throughout the novel. Bunny’s comfortable and wealthy life is contrasted with Paul’s as Bunny assists his father in gaining more and more wealth and Paul is sent off to war.


When first there’s an oil strike and then Bunny begins attending college, he’s introduced to Bolshevism and idea that what his father is doing may be less than honest. Then Paul returns from Russia as a socialist, and Bunny’s opinions concerning big business and the rights of the worker are more solidified as he continues in his idolization of Paul. Despite his opinions being the very definition of opposition to what he works for, Bunny’s father continues to support him and his socialist friends while still fighting to eke as much money as he can from the average man’s pocket. Their differences come to a head when Bunny’s father finds himself being forced to flee the country after getting in a partnership with a man named Vernon Roscoe – who sticks his fingers into the government and attempts to buy two successive Presidencies and jilt the military out of cheap oil.
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