Book Review- The Jungle

Leah Courtney


I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair as part of the Books of the Century Challenge.

This was one of those classic books I had heard of but never read. Reading The Jungle was somewhat like coming upon a train wreck. You don't want to see it, but you can't look away. Upton Sinclair was a journalist who was investigating the meat packing business for a socialist newspaper/magazine publication in the early 1900s. He moved to Chicago and spent time interviewing workers and looking into the meat-packing plants. He met immigrants who were taken in by the huge industries.

The Jungle begins at a Lithuanian wedding. It tells the story of Jorgis and his new bride and her extended family. The book retraces their journey to America looking for work and prosperity and recalls what has befallen them since they came. We begin to see the horrible corruption of the meat-packing industry where Jorgis and all of his family obtained jobs. We see the struggle of the family to make money and survive in the city.

Jorgis and his family have many struggles and not all of them survive. Through it all, Jorgis learns to use the system and becomes a criminal. He spends time in prison, as a hobo, homeless. In the end he is "enlightened" by socialist speakers and realizes that socialism is the answer to all of the city's ills.

I read some research about this novel and was interested to note that, although Sinclair's book did not have the far-reaching effects promoting socialism that he had hoped for, it did result in investigation of and changes to the filthy and corrupt meatpacking industry.

I was not surprised by the "socialism is the answer to everything" ending of the book. I was taken aback at the picture of the meatpacking industry- especially when I read that most of what Sinclair detailed in his book was later found to be true by more objective parties.

The Jungle was very interesting, although somewhat predictable. Jorgis is a very easy character to be drawn to and to become sympathetic to. The book was sad- especially when considering that this was the true plight of many poor immigrants who came to the cities during these times.

Leah Courtney / Author & Editor

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