David’s Outline

David Stevens

Professor Dimock

ENGL 012: Literary Cities

Short Paper Outline


Conformity and the Insufficiencies of the American Dream in The Jungle and The Age of Innocence




At first glance, the societies presented to the reader in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence seem worlds apart: in one, the back-breaking, futile labors of the heaving masses of the Chicago stockyards are presented; in the other, the high society of “old New York,” in which no character has ever had to work. What is it that ties these stories of the American city together?


  • Rigid conformity:
    • Jungle: machinery of industry, cogs, animals
    • Age of innocence: rigid expectations of high society, lack of true intellectual outlets
  • In both, conformity corrupts American Dream
    • Jungle: honest work gets you nowhere, cycle of poverty
      • Corruption, social Darwinism only ways out
    • Age of Innocence: society incomplete without intellectual pursuits
      • Tribal society, “hieroglyphic world”
      • Dilettante-ism valued over actual engagement



Society in both The Jungle and The Age of Innocence enforce rigid, suffocating conformity, ultimately leading to the corruption of the American Dream and the detriment of the characters therein.



  1. Conformity and rebellion in The Jungle
    1. Imagery of Durham meatpacking industry
      1. Man small and powerless, THE MACHINE rules
      2. “No one gets ahead by honest work”
      3. selfishness of capitalism, social darwinism, the American Dream
  1. humans as animals
    1. conformity à dehumanization, efficiency
    2. cows and calves, men and children too
  2. Examples of escape from the “rat race”
    1. Hoboing in the countryside
    2. Criminal life with Jack Duane
  • Working in the graft machine


  1. Conformity and rebellion in The Age of Innocence
    1. Society as “heaven”
      1. Keeping out unpleasantness for the sake of preserving the social balance
      2. Intellectual pursuits could add to lives of old New Yorkers, but too “bohemian” and risky
  • Socially constructed innocence of May and others; “veil”
  1. Innocence or ignorance? Naïveté or true purity?
  1. Unintellectual society with intellectual façade
    1. Ned Winsett: “Pure man of letters, untimely born in an era in no need of letters.” –Ch. 14
    2. Irony: society in great need of letters
  • Illusion of intellectualism: “Travel, horticulture, and the best fiction.” Represents small portion of society, read nothing controversial, shallow.
    1. Opera Scene!
  1. “dilettante, taking more pleasure in the anticipation of the thing than the thing itself
  1. Conformity: “it’s not the thing to ______.”
    1. Cog in machine, just like Jurgis
  2. Irony of New York today: cultural capital, defines city
  3. Rebellion(?) of Ned Winsett and/or Professor Sillerton


  1. Corruption of American Dream in both
    1. Jungle
      1. “I’ll work harder,” Jurgis’s perpetual manifesto destroyed by harsh reality.
      2. No place for traditions in American machinery – wedding
  • Relationship to Wharton – no value in working hard
  1. Age of Innocence
    1. Have all the trappings of the American Dream from a materialistic point: houses, Fifth Avenue, family
    2. Ultimate insufficiency of society, American Dream
      1. Lack of intellectualism leads to husk of civilization


This is a very rough outline with a lot of loose ends, and very possibly too many ideas for a succinct, focused short paper. I look forward to hearing the comments my classmates have.


David  —

The Jungle and The Age of Innocence make for a great comparison, but I’m not sure if “conformity” is the best word to describe the common ground between these novels.   A better concept might be a “cog in the machine” that you have already alluded to.  This is what we  would expect for Jurgis, but entirely counterintuitive for Newland Archer, whose old New York seems worlds apart from the Chicago  stockyards.  Highlighting the extent to which he is an inescapable part of the upper class “tribal” society would generate a fruitful comparative frame, allowing you to discuss the initial “innocence” of each character, and the way each is gradually worn down and integrated into their respective “machines.”


Hi David!

I think you’ve linked two seemingly unrelated novels in a really fascinating way, and I agree with Professor Dimock’s comment that “cog in the machine” might be a more effective representation of the similarities between the novels. The American Dream is really interesting to consider–it’s more directly referenced in The Jungle, and I wonder if you could further link it to The Age of Innocence by discussing Old New York’s relationship to Europe, in its shallow imitations of European culture and simultaneous disgust with their “loose” morals. Rather than creating a truly American system, Wharton’s characters seem to be okay with settling for an adaptation of an older “machine.”

As an example for suggested “escape” methods from Sinclair’s “machine” in The Jungle, you might mention socialism and briefly discuss whether the author considers this a feasible solution or thinks that the overarching capitalist system is too powerful for individuals/political parties to resist (this might be too much for the scope of a short paper, though). If you’re considering characters that rebel against the hopelessness of the overarching “machine,” you could possibly link the members of the Socialist party presented (or Jack Duane) to Ned Winsett as examples of characters who work around the system.

All in all, great job! – Shireen

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