Sara’s Blog

Thoughts on The Jungle (November 7)

For my paper, I’m interested in exploring Upton Sinclair’s work The Jungle.  I was interested in the idea of the work’s significance on society – considering how the novel itself impacted how we produce and consume food today.  As a Socialist Journalist, Sinclair investigated the problems of industrialization, urbanization, immigration and corruption in the city of Chicago, specifically in the meatpacking industries.  There are so many things happening within the novel – from the visceral senses of smell, sounds, touch to the novel as a whole as a movement.  From the idea of the American Dream to the Immigrant Experience to even just the concept of the title “The Jungle”, the novel packs significant themes and motifs that our society still struggles with today.

In performing some literature research for my paper, I stumbled upon an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune written by Bill Savage, a professor at Northwestern University who specializes in “Chicago literature”.  The article, titled “Revisiting ‘The Jungle’ in Modern Times”, does exactly that – findings lessons applicable to the present in Sinclair’s novel.  Sinclair’s work is described to the “avowedly political”.  He was not trying to be subtle or ask his audience to read between the lines to seek what his purpose in writing the novel was.  He was straightforward about the atrocities of the meatpacking industry and the suffering of immigrants and refused to be subtle or quiet about it in any way.

Savage writes, “‘The Jungle’… should be read to remind us that Americans keep fighting the same political, economic and cultural battles over and over again, and while our factories might be cleaner and our food more pure, things haven’t really changed structurally. “Socialist” is still a dirty word to conservatives…”
Savage shows parallels between society today and the society that Sinclair explores in his novel.  Seeing how the novel still prevails even over a century, I was interested in exploring the idea of the significance of the novel as a whole and possibly the idea of the novel as a hyperobject in itself.


Essay Outline

The Jungle

Exploring the nonhuman in The Jungle:

The American Dream

  • polarizing entity
  • force that brings Jurgis and his family to America
  • Sinclair framed “American Dream” in a way to blame capitalism – contrasts between dream and reality throughout the novel

The language

  • the struggle integrating into American culture due to language barriers


  • America’s perception of immigrants
    • Pitied – bring in the hungry and poor for success
    • Looked down upon – used for their work

The House

  • or material goods in general
  • hard to obtain – or once obtained, becomes a burden rather than something to be glad about
  • everything comes with a price

The meatpacking industry

  • what makes The Jungle as a novel significant to society is the particular setting in Chicago’s meatpacking factories
  • Packingtown as a living entity
    • Living conditions, corruption, moral corruption

The corporation

  • corruption and capitalism

How the nonhuman exposes the “human” in The Jungle:

Through all the nonhuman elements, we are able to see how Sinclair portrays humanity.

  • Sinclair’s socialist agenda is revealed
    • Believes capitalism is corrupt
    • Humans have an unethical agenda of getting forward on others’ misfortune

Through the interaction between the “nonhuman” and “human”, how the novel itself becomes a hyperobject in society:

  • The book as a movement
    • Influence of the book on practical affairs
  • Linked to Social Darwinism
  • The novel originally intended to elicit sympathy for the working class and build support for Socialist movement – but provoked the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and later the FDA
    • Impacted imports drastically
  • What this all means for us today – how the book became symbolic

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