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1001 book reviews > The Jungle - Upton Sinclair

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message 1: by Book (last edited Jun 18, 2016 07:41AM) (new)

Book Wormy | 1822 comments Mod
The Jungle
★★★

When I started reading this it felt very much like a Steinbeck novel and then it kind of went of the rails for me, the beauty of Steinbeck is that his stories get the point over in a relatively low page count and with a simplicity that tells the reader this is how it is without the characters demanding sympathy.

The problem I had with The Jungle was that it was just one tragedy after another and yes that is probably realistic but because the book is so long I was getting immune to tragedy by about half way through it was like hitting the point home over and over again with a blunt object. As soon as something was going well my first thought was ok who is going to die next.

I can see that this would have been a very influential book at the time of publication and the fact that it helped raise awareness and bring about reforms to benefit workers means it deserves its place on the list, as a reader I just didn't personally enjoy it.


message 2: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 3832 comments Mod
The Jungle 3 stars. Well, second time to read the book, June 2016, first time was July 2010. 1001 reference book states "this is not the first muckraking novel, but one of the most influential novels. It was used politically by Roosevelt to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act. It states that this book is based on real incidents in 1904 stockyard worker's strike. It is a manifesto for social change. In this book, the United States is not the place for the immigrant. It is the tale of Jurgis Rudkus, an immigrant from Lithuania. When you read this stuff, you have to wonder why anyone would leave their homeland. This is a story of one failed dream after another. The other presents socialism as the beacon of hope. Perhaps, this book was a wake up call to the democrats and republican parties. I don't know but according to this book, the socialist made great strides. Anyway, I still dislike this book. I hate that business was so awful to people and I know that is the very reason's unions and socialism had such surges as they did but I just hate that people would be so greedy. But mostly, I dislike this book because it is such a lot of preaching. The story of the man and his family, if told in true Dickensian fashion, would have made a great story. I listened to the audio the second time and it was read well and made a good alternative to reading it for a second time.

Here is my first review; I enjoyed this book until the last few chapters. The story is of immigrants to the US in the early 1900's who come to Chicago and work in the meat packing plants. It tells of greed of business over the dignity of human life. The writing is good and the story reads well until the last few chapters which really are nothing but dedicated prose to the support of socialism as the answer to the problem. It isn't even written into the story so that it would give you some ending to the life of Jurgis Rudkus the protagonist who came to the US with such hopes and lost everything. Too bad the author didn't write a better ending to his story. He saw himself as a prophet for socialism.


message 3: by John (last edited Jun 28, 2016 05:32AM) (new)

John Seymour The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
★★★

If history can be said to be the telling of a falsehood by way of true facts and literature the telling of truth by way of untrue facts, then what would you call a book that tells a falsehood by way of untrue facts? The Jungle. Sinclair was a socialist setting out to write a paean to socialism and to push the United States to a socialist revolution, a socialist Atlas Shrugged. Every evil, every wrong, every bad aspect of early 20th century capitalism is vastly magnified and then concentrated on Jurgis, the hero, and every virtue and benefit is dismissed or minimized. Jurgis struggles through setback after setback, bad luck, ill will and poor choices. He and his family are fleeced first while trying to leave Lithuania, then on arrival in New York, then in Chicago. Naïfs cast adrift in the world, they are beset on every side.

Sinclair later said he had "aimed at the Public's heart and hit it in the stomach." Desiring to advance the cause of workers, he instead created a consumer movement. He eventually opposed the Pure Food And Drug Act that was inspired by his book because he recognized that it was the creature of the big meatpackers pushed to assure foreign customers that their product was safe and would have the effect of strengthening their hold on the industry.

From the standpoint of the 21st century, his praise of a future socialist workers paradise seems pretty silly, and I couldn't help but wonder if it had come to pass, would Jurgis have shied away from cracking eggs to make the omelet? Given that he was willing to engage in armed robbery and election fraud, it is hard to see where he would have found the character to resist the orders to put capitalists against the wall.

But notwithstanding its many problems, it is a well written piece of propaganda and was extremely effective, even though the programs that resulted were not what Sinclair had in mind when he started writing. Which is why I gave it three stars and I do think it belongs on the list.


message 4: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 1192 comments Mod
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
3/5
I decided to read the uncensored original edition. I figured it was better to read what the author had originally intended than the watered down version that was published. The Foreword by Earl Lee and the Introduction by Kathleen De Grave was most informative and provided insight into the history of the book.

The Jungle, published in 1906, is about a Lithuanian family that immigrates to America and go to Chicago to find work. The family ends up in the meatpacking industry. I enjoyed the first 100 pages as it gave a lot of history of the stockyards. As the story went on it became quite predictable with many chapters ending on a sour note. The book became a bit unbelievable as anything that could go wrong did and Jurgis made every bad decision in the book. The last 100 pages I just slogged through as it was propaganda against capitalism and for socialism.

I discussed this book with my mother-in-law whose father was a butcher in the 1930s. He emigrated from Germany to escape the Nazi and came to California to find work as a butcher. My Mother-in-law thought he had a good job and provided well for his family. She also stated that she remembers her father could wear gloves while working. I guess a lot had changed by 1930s.


message 5: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1308 comments Re-reading The Jungle was a great exercise in finding out how the lens with which one reads a book influences how that book is perceived. When I first read The Jungle in early 1981 in a course in American Literature I was studying, it was through the lens of a smug New Zealander whose country embraced socialism and where society was fair and free. I had recently taken a group of school girls to visit a freezing works, which is what we called packing houses, because most of our meat is frozen for export. Although the work was unpleasant, the animals were humanely treated and I was almost certain that no one ended up in a vat of lard. I remembered when, as a student, I had turned up for a party at a freezing worker's house with my jam jars to drink out of, and found that the freezing worker had an expansive home and plenty of crystal glasses to drink from.

Now I could hardly bear to read the trials of Jurgis, and I marvelled that I had insisted that my sixteen-year-old daughter read this book before a year as an exchange student in the States. It was an integral part of the American canon, I believed. Then Kiwis had free tertiary education, there was a limit on taking cash overseas, a three year waiting list for a car and nobody had, or indeed needed medical insurance. There were no rich people and the least skilled of society had jobs with the state owned railways or the public works department which built roads. Now the follies of neo-liberalism have utterly changed New Zealand society. Medical insurance is necessary, tertiary students pile up huge debt to get a degree, we have conspicuous rich and people sleeping in cars because they cannot afford accommodation because many jobs are zero rated. The railways, the road building industry and indeed prison administration have all been privatised with devastating consequences.

Looking further afield the gap between rich and poor has widened so that right wing populism is overtaking left wing socialism in many other countries too. The Brexit and the rise and rise of Donald Trump are the two obvious examples, but there are plenty of others such as Austria and Denmark. Others have remarked that Sinclair indulges in a socialist rant in the last few chapters. Personally, I think that socialism deserves a better reputation than it has received in America. The world has changed, but the immigrant fleeing war or poverty is far more numerous than at the beginning of the twentieth century and the beneficiaries of globalism need to heed the xenophobia of the working class who feel left out. Five stars to Sinclair for his muck-raking journalism disguised as a novel. We all need to think about where the current lauding of the rich and conspicuous consumption is taking us and why so many feel left behind.


message 6: by Beverly (last edited Jun 29, 2016 06:43PM) (new)

Beverly (zippymom) | 95 comments The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
3 stars

This story begins with the description of a happy, carefree wedding party. The joy of this occasion contrasts sharply with the rest of the book as it follows an immigrant family of Lithuanians as they settle in Chicago and begin working in the slaughterhouses there. The horrors of the slaughtering process and the working conditions are presented in harsh detail, so easily upset readers be warned. Every time I thought that the family was finally getting ahead, another crisis would arise. It was almost unbelievable to me that these and many other naive people from many other countries were treated so poorly, constantly being taken advantage of with little hope of becoming self-sustaining. At some point toward the end of the book, the story itself seems to come to an abrupt stop and the rest of the book becomes a rallying cry for socialism. Although I'm glad that I read this book and I look forward to our book discussion regarding it, learning about the atrocities that took place in both the industry and the private lives of the workers was difficult and apt to stay with me for a long time.

ADDENDUM: And yet it didn't...stay with me for a long time that is. I did remember that the working conditions were horrific and that the families struggled constantly to make ends meet but I had certainly forgotten the particulars and so was horrified all over again. Other than that comment, I stand by my original review.


message 7: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Robitaille | 895 comments The Jungle (Upton Sinclair) ** 1/2

This felt like reading something from a more strident Michael Moore who had lived 100 years ago (I much prefer Michael Moore). While this novel unearthed many of the truths behind the meat-packing industry and the rife graft and corruption in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century through the extraordinary life of Jurgis Rudkus, it was so heavy to read, probably because of the style it was written in. The last 30-odd pages, preaching all the virtues of Socialism as it was evolving at that time, were excruciating, even for a left-leaning person like me.


message 8: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
2.5 stars

This book was a torturous read for me and I'm at a loss on how to rate it. I really disliked it and listening to it (I completed as an audiobook) filled me with a heaviness and sense of gloom that colored the rest of my day. It felt like I was being stabbed in the heart over and over again.

There were no moments of redemption or glimmers of hope. While I can appreciate the importance of this book and how led to needed social reforms and the Meat Inspection act, I struggled with it. It was certainly an emotionally powerful book in that it elicited the emotions in me that the author intended but the unrelenting doom and gloom made me want to stop reading.

Very graphic descriptions of meat packing plant made me lose my appetite (I realize this was intentional and certainly effective propaganda). Nothing good happens to anyone and anytime you think that Jurgis has hit bottom, something worse happens and part of you roots for everyone to die quickly to put them out of their misery.


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