Friday, December 28, 2012

Forgotten Book: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle

Imagine you are the one cooking for US President, Theodore Roosevelt. Then one day as you have served him  breakfast and are humming in the kitchen, you are told that the President has thrown out the plate of sausages. What will be your reaction - a quaking in the boots, palpitations of the heart, breaking out in cold sweat? Rest assure, the President's action has nothing to do with your cooking skills (or lack thereof) but rather with his reading of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

Sinclair's novel, serialized in 1905 and first published in a book form in 1906, hit a nerve, the nation's conscience (or at least its stomach). The depiction of the slaughterhouses of Chicago through the travails and tribulations of Jurgis Rudkus led to a massive uproar and protest that led to the passing of the Pure Food and Drug, and the Beef Inspection acts. After all who wants to be told that the sausage s/he is gobbling up might include the entrails of a rat?

Jurgis Rudkus and his extended family through marriage migrate to US from Lithuania as America is the land of opportunity and promise. At first all goes well as the family marvels at the land where one sees so much enterprise and freedom. Finding work too is not tough for the young, able-bodied members of the family. But slowly, the picture starts turning bleak. The factories and slaughterhouses are nothing but soul-killers. The workers are simply cogs in a machine with no rights. They have to work for long back-breaking hours, in inhuman conditions, and the women particularly are sexually exploited.

The family sinks deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and despair leading to death and derivation. The only salvation appears to be the Socialist Party but is it a reality or a mirage?

It is easy to see why this novel was such a favourite of the Indian Revolutionaries. Dedicated to the Workingmen of America, it gives voice to the silent, oppressed, marginalised people of the world. A novel with high emotional appeal, at times it reads more like a documentary novel and thus I could not relate to the characters the way I did in Sinclair's other novel: King Coal. However, there are lines which stay in memory for a long time, as this:

To do that would mean, not merely to be defeated, but to acknowledge defeat - and the difference between these two things is what keeps the world going. (18)

First Line: It was four o'clock when the ceremony was over and the carriages began to arrive.

Title: The Jungle

Author: Upton Sinclair

Publication Details: NY: Signet Classics, 1990

First Published: 1906

Pages: 352

Other Books read of the same author: King Coal


The book can be purchased on the Net and is also available in libraries. I bought it at Delhi Book Fair a couple of years ago.

 Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), A Classics Challenge, Mount TBR, TBR Pile, Unread Book.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books


  1. Great review Neer - been a long time since I read any Sinclair and I have never actually read this one. Thanks very much. Hope you have a very good year.

    1. Thanks a lot Sergio. I'd love to read your views on this book, if/ when you read it. A very good year to you too.

  2. I read the extended version of The Jungle a few years back, the one that includes even more of the socialist ranting. I did like the gritty realism and extended detail, but as a work of fiction it has several problems. Sinclair had a clear motive & sacrificed basic elements of fiction in order to present his highly effective case. Theodore Dreiser did better with combining socialist viewpoint & novel writing. I'm glad I read it & did enjoy it (though mostly as an artefact), but not a book I would revisit.

  3. The Socialst rant was a vastly overdone but than Socilaism was seen as a panacea for all ills in the beginning of the 20th century. It took away the emotional core of the book though.

    Have never read Dreiser but plan to one of these days.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting. It'd be nice if you visit again.