The American Dream within The Jungle
The Jungle is the account of an immigrant who discovers the American Dream can only be a fable under America’s capitalist system. Upton Sinclair wrote the novel after spending some weeks working in the meat packing industry, basing many of the events and conditions described in the novel on the notes he took firsthand. "[The Jungle] is remembered as a stomach-turning exposé of unsanitary conditions and deceitful practices in the meat packing industry; as such it aroused the ire of a whole nation, from President Theodore Roosevelt on down, and it contributed enormously to the landmark passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906" (Dickstein 49). But Sinclair was more than a muckraker looking for the next big story, he was also a socialist looking to spread the socialist doctrine, and this is evident in the novel. The Jungle chronicles the lives of Jurgis Rudkos, a Lithuanian immigrant, and his new family as they start their American existence in the stockyards of Chicago in the early twentieth century. The family faces terrible misfortune and worse working conditions, struggling to make their way in this new world. Jurgis experiences many walks of life, being at times a poor worker, a beggar, a thief, and a floor-boss, until he wanders into a socialist meeting and is completely indoctrinated. The novel then takes a turn and explores the tenets of socialism and how the socialist solution could improve the livelihoods of the masses. In his novel The Jungle, Upton Sinclair destroys the concept of the American Dream in an effort to attack Capitalistic values and appeal to the tenets of Socialism.
From the time of its conception, the American Dream has inspired foreigners to remake their lives in America. Hard work can get anyone anywhere. Jurgis and his wife Ona come to America assured they will find economic opportunity and social equality. It even becomes Jurgis’ motto to work harder as he believes hard work can solve every problem. Like many immigrants, they want to own a house and want their children to be educated. They want to prosper and believe that all men are, in fact, created equal. This dream is not what awaits them in the stockyard; this is not life in the jungle. "Beneath the rhetoric of a new society based on equality and brotherhood, America had built its experiment on tired and tested foundations of competitions and greed" (Yoder 13), and that greed had seeped into each aspect of their dream. They enter into a greed fueled capitalist system that forgives no man, unless he can pay for his penance.
No man is forgiven; the stockyards emphasize profits over safety and security, and the conditions in the packing houses reflect this prioritization. While Jurgis is ebullient when he is first given a job on the killing floor, he does not realize the back breaking work he faces. Jurgis is a giant of a man, but the system is tiring even for him. The floor-bosses who oversee the killing floor speed up the process, not allowing time for rest or error. Jurgis falls into a pattern of mechanical repetition through the novel (Derrick 130). The workers must execute machine like actions, performing the same task ad-infinitum with robotic precision. None of the workers are paid well because there is always an aggregation of men outside the gates who would work for scraps if given the chance. Men who protest the low wages are quickly replaced; one repeated motion can be easily taught to a new worker. The men also work in terrible conditions, standing in half an inch of blood each day while the men around them swing knives with abandon. Many men are injured in the novel, including Jurgis who receives a sprained ankle and a burned hand while working. In the stockyards, "grotesque injuries were inevitable, injuries for which the company would never take responsibility" (Dickstein 57). This is the case for an unfortunate worker pulverized by an elevator: “…before he died the company...
Cited: Derrick, Scott. "What a Beating Feels Like: Authorship, Dissolution, and Masculinity in Sinclair 's The Jungle." Studies in American Fiction 23 Spring 1995: n. pag. Rpt. in Upton Sinclair 's The Jungle. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002. 125-38. Print. Modern Critical Interpretations.
Dickstein, Morris. "Introduction to The Jungle." The Jungle. N.p.: Bantam, 1981. N. pag. Rpt. in Upton Sinclair 's The Jungle. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002. 48- 60. Print. Modern Critical Interpretations.
Elliott, Emory. "Afterword to The Jungle." The Jungle. N.p.: Emory Elliott, 1990. N. pag. Rpt. in Upton Sinclair 's The Jungle. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002. 89- 97. Print. Modern Critical Interpretations.
Mookerjee, R. N. "Muckraking and Fame: The Jungle." Art for Social Justice: The Major Novels of Upton Sinclair. N.p.: n.p., 1988. 69-88. Rpt. in Upton Sinclair 's The Jungle. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002. Print. Modern Critical Interpretations.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp, 2003. Print.
Yoder, John A. "The Muckraker." Upton Sinclair. N.p.: Fredrick Ungar, 1975. N. pag. Rpt. in Upton Sinclair 's The Jungle. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002. 3- 20. Print. Modern Critical Interpretations.
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