The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, is one gem of a novel. It is moving, depressing, gripping, and downright surreal in its true and only form. Published in 1906, I can see how this book has changed the course of the United States business and political system, as well as reveal all sorts of atrocities and horrible experiences that makes you appreciate the type of work, and benefits, that the workingman or women possess today.
I started reading it after hearing of its grotesque and downright disturbing reputation as a novel. Even for a novel so gripping and disgusting as The Jungle, I am surprised by its lack of involvement in the curriculum of schools. To my knowledge, it is not on the official list of books to be taught in schools in California, and I have no clue whether teachers acknowledge the book at all. I have had few teachers that can say they actually read it, let alone college students and my fellow high school peers.
It is not a book for the light-hearted: in laymans terms, this book has made me want to go to work for 16 hours in a day, and believe that no breaks, low wages, and backbreaking work solely responsible off the sweat of a man’s brow is considered honorable and generous. It has changed my view of working-class citizens of not only today’s generation of men, women, and children, but also of how things have evolved.
We live in an age of unemployment checks, medical and disability leave, maternity leave, paid sick days, 8 hour work days + a little overtime, and where minimum wage is $8.75 an hour. Back when this book was written, and long before that well into the 1800s, none of these “luxuries” existed. A man was responsible for himself, his safety, his food, his family, his work, and his drive to do what was considered fair and honest work, and for sure as hell got no acknowledgement or help from his employers and bare to none help from his fellow workingclass men and women.
Perhaps I sound annoyed or disgusted with the luxuries that are provided to working-class men and women of our time, and although I may not fully understand how we have come to gain these luxuries over the course of the last 110 years, I can say for certain this The Jungle is an incredible and heartbreaking novel that has had enough of an effect on me to inspire me to write these words for any passerby who wishes to listen to them. This novel is the tale of human spirit, values, morals, and suffering in its most simplest and raw form. Over the course of these last 100 years of labor, war, advancement, and competition in the world, so have changed the values, morals, and understanding of the working class man or woman. For better or for worse, I could’ve answered the obvious common answer before I read this novel; now I am not so sure. Although they are good things that are thrust upon society, and not to say they are not honest, hardworking and good-honored men and women in this world that do deserve a break, it is nonetheless a break that not everybody deserves.
I would take that latter statement to the grave. Don’t believe me? Go to your nearest library and bookstore and read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. You will be haunted and changed as I have.