JUNGLE, THE, Upton Beall Sinclair's novel of labor exploitation in Chicago's meatpacking industry, advanced groundbreaking food and drug legislation rather than the anticapitalist outcry the author anticipated. A member of the Socialist Party of America, in 1904 Sinclair accepted a $500 commission from the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason to write a fiction series comparing northern "wage slavery" to the South's antebellum slave system. Published in book form in 1906, The Jungle interpreted the hard-ships of ethnic workers as an odyssey toward socialist re-birth. Protagonist Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant to Packingtown, at first gladly accepts meatpacking employment. He endures long workdays in miserable conditions; loses his job in defense of his wife, whom a fore-man has seduced; is bereaved of his home, wife, and family; and, finally, after months of aimless wandering, discovers new dignity and purpose in the socialist movement. Sinclair's novel was the product of nearly two months' research in Packingtown, the laboring community adjacent to Chicago's stockyards.
However, popular reaction to the best-seller fell short of his hopes: as Sinclair famously observed, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach." Shocked at the unhygienic processing methods and product misrepresentation portrayed in the novel, consumers shunned dressed meat, while President Theodore Roosevelt launched an inquiry into packing house sanitation. The findings, which confirmed Sinclair's account, prompted Congress to pass both the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.
Since the Progressive Era, scholars have valued The Jungle as a document of America's industrial and immigrant experience. Sinclair's apt descriptions of the stockyards and workday retain their emotional impact, and his celebrated portrayal of an ethnic wedding in Packingtown offers a rare glimpse of community ritual and interactions.
Bloodworth, William A., Jr. Upton Sinclair. Boston: Twayne, 1977.
Yoder, Jon A. Upton Sinclair. New York: Ungar, 1975.
See alsoMeatpacking ; andvol. 9:Conditions in Meatpacking Plants .