(This is still a little bit jumbled, but hopefully with some feedback I can pare down my arguments a bit!)
Sandburg and Sinclair focus on the devastating ways that the economic structure of Chicago estranges the working poor from their humanity. Although Sandburg seems to place the blame on industrialism and Sinclair on capitalism (which can, of course, be seen as two sides of the same coin), the two writers obsess equally on the devolution of human ritual–birth, marriage, the distinct period of adolescence before adulthood, and, perhaps especially, death. But when going back through both of these works, I was most struck by the differences between the outlook of the two writers, both in regards to the city of Chicago and to the way that the people of Chicago relate to one another. Sandburg is critical of Chicago and of the ways its industrialism oppresses the poor, but he also possesses a feeling of kinship with the people of the city, which prevents him from condemning it entirely.
Rough thesis: While Sandburg and Sinclair seem to launch similar critiques of Chicago’s effect on its working poor, the two diverge in one major way. Sandburg’s poems, through their imagery and romantic language, paint the situation as a necessary outcome of Chicago’s progress, whereas Sinclair juxtaposes Chicago and Lithuania to convince readers that there is no progress–only loss.
Body 1: Sandburg’s “Chicago” vs. that of Sinclair
- From “They tell me you are wicked and I believe them” to “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning”
- The “They” in Sandburg’s poems is worth tracking as a motif throughout his poems (see below, pt. 2)
- The idea of the “Nation” as mentioned by Sandburg–something that doesn’t appear in Sinclair’s work
- “I am the People, the Mob”
- Sinclair’s imagery of Chicago confined only to the meatpacking areas and slums
- Sandburg’s imagery of natural and manmade landmarks, skyscrapers, monuments, all suggest progress and effort
- “The Harbor”
- To Sinclair, this same city is poison
Body 2: The city’s effects on man
- Sandburg’s most damning critique of Chicago is its ability to steal childhood from its young working poor
- “Mill Doors,” “They Will Say”
- But Sandburg isn’t entirely critical–he sees the bustle of life and progress in “Working Girls”
- Sinclair: “Graceland”
Body 3: The city’s effect on man’s eternal life (or lack thereof)
- Religion & socialism in The Jungle
- The socialist speech about Jesus
- “Contemporary Bunkshooter”
- Is the city getting in between man and his ability to know God?
I completely agree with you that Sinclair and Sandburg are in fact quite different, even though they tend to be lumped together as Chicago writers preoccupied with the working classes. Perhaps one way to dramatize that difference is to focus on Sandburg’s persistent use of pronouns — “I” and “they”– as mediating agencies. Unlike Sinclair, whose goal is to give us direct access to the horrific work conditions and machine politics of Chicago, Sandburg’s poems are less informational than attitudinal, with the “I” and the “they” serving as a veil or filter between the reader and the phenomena described in the poems. I hope you’ll pursue this line of inquiry and shed light on the rhetorical differences between the two authors. — wd
I absolutely love this idea, and I think the thesis is really strong (and true). The way you’ve structured the essay works very well, flowing from the city, to the city’s effect on man, to the city’s effect on man’s eternal life. I do agree that it might need to be pared down a little, and it seems like you have a lot to say about the authors’ pronoun usage. I know we talked a little about Sandburg’s pluralistic, Whitman-esque “I” vs. the individualistic, every-man-for-himself “I” that is the byword of Sinclair’s Chicago. What stuck out to me, reading your outline, is that Sandburg’s use of “I” often embodies many of the principles that come out in the socialist speech in The Jungle that you talk about in your third section. (This is particularly true in “I am the People, the Mob,” and also “Masses,” which it might be useful to look at.) It could be interesting to take a close look at the message of (and the pronoun use in) those poems in particular, in relation to the socialist speech. I’m not sure how much of a sense of “nation” I got reading Sandburg—I often felt like I was reading poems about two parallel nations existing on top of each other, one rich and one poor—but I did get a sense of class solidarity.