Review: The Jungle

The Jungle The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was the next book I picked up and it hit me hard. I understood the influence of this book, but I never realized it would hit me emotionally. Now, those who have read it may not agree and some have seen the story as more of a propaganda piece against the more problematic issues of unfettered capitalism (that is, a pro-socialism diatribe) than an actual novel, but I think that does a disservice to what makes the book as impactful as it has been. The story begins with the marriage of Jurgis and Ona and traces their experience immigrating to the United States. They eventually end up in the meat-slaughtering district of Chicago where the entire family seeks survival in a brutal world of employment in unsafe working conditions, surplus population, and ruthless employers. Jurgis’s descent from poor but seemingly livable rural life in Lithuania to wanton criminal is heartbreaking at times. The once proud and powerful Jurgis represents the great American ideal (he continually invokes the idea of working harder to attain his financial “freedom”) clashing with the stark reality of life in the late 19th and early 20th century for millions of Americans.

Knowing the larger truth of working conditions to which Sinclair spoke, made Jurgis’s plight more powerful. Jurgis may never existed but inevitably many have walked similar paths and still do. Inevitably, there were parts of this book that I had trouble digesting (pun, intended).

Peter Kuper does a good and stark comic version of it, that if read deliberately can evoke many of the emotions found in the book; though I don’t think it does the book full justice since so much of Jurgis’s plight is vested in a combination of Sinclair’s vivid descriptions of the squalid living conditions, brutal work environments, and emotional desperation of his characters.

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