The Jungle

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The Jungle

1st edition
Author(s) Upton Sinclair
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Political fiction
Publisher Doubleday, Jabber & Company
Publication date February 28, 1906
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 475
OCLC Number 149214

The Jungle is a 1906 novel written by the American journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968).[1] Sinclair wrote the novel to portray the lives of immigrants in the United States. Many readers were most concerned with his exposure of practices in the American meatpacking industry during the early 20th century, based on an investigation he did for a socialist newspaper.

The book depicts poverty, the absence of social programs, unpleasant living and working conditions, and the hopelessness prevalent among the working class, which is contrasted with the deeply rooted corruption of people in power. A review by the writer Jack London called it, "the Uncle Tom's Cabin of wage slavery."[2]

Sinclair was considered a muckraker, or journalist who exposed corruption in government and business.[3] He first published the novel in serial form in 1905 in the socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, between February 25, 1905, and November 4, 1905. In 1904, Sinclair had spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards for the newspaper. It was published as a book in 1906.

A film version of the novel was made in 1914, but it has since become lost.


Plot summary

The main character in the book is Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant trying to make ends meet in Chicago. The book begins with his wedding feast after his marriage to the 15-year-old Ona Lukoszaite, also Lithuanian. The second chapter describes their lives and extended families in Lithuania.

Rudkus and his wife settle in Chicago's Packingtown district, where many immigrants work who don't know much English. He takes a job at Brown's slaughterhouse. Rudkus had thought the US would offer more freedom, but he finds working conditions harsh. He and his young wife struggle to survive. They fall deeply into debt and are prey to con men. Hoping to buy a house, they exhaust their savings on the down-payment for a sub-standard slum house, which they cannot afford. The family is evicted after their money is taken.

Rudkus had expected to support his wife and other relatives, but eventually all - the women, children, and his sick father - seek work to survive. As the novel progresses, the jobs and means the family uses to stay alive slowly lead to their physical and moral decay. Accidents at work, and other events lead the family closer to catastrophe. One injury results in Jurgis being fired; he later takes a job at Durham's fertilizer plant. The family's tragedies accumulate as Ona confesses that her boss had raped her, and made her job dependent on her giving him sexual favors. In revenge, Rudkus attacks Connor, resulting in arrest and imprisonment.

After being released from jail, Rudkus finds that his family has been evicted. He finds them staying with relatives, where Ona is in labor with her second child. She dies in childbirth from blood loss at eighteen. Rudkus had lacked the money for a doctor. Soon after, his first child drowns in a muddy street. Rudkus leaves the city and takes up drinking. His brief sojourn as a hobo in rural United States shows him that there is really no escape—farmers turn their workers away when the harvest is finished.

Rudkus returns to Chicago and holds down a succession of laboring jobs and as a con-man. He drifts without direction. One night, he wanders into a lecture being given by a Socialist orator, where he finds community and purpose. A fellow socialist employs him, and he resumes his support of his wife's family, although some of them are damaged beyond repair. The book ends with another socialist rally, which follows some political victories.

Panorama of the beef industry in 1900 by a Chicago-based photographer


Men walking on wooden rails between cattle pens in the Chicago stockyard (1909)
  • Jurgis Rudkus is a Lithuanian who immigrates to the US and struggles to support his happy family.
  • Ona Lukoszaite Rudkus is Jurgis' teenage wife.
  • Marija Berczynskas, Ona’s cousin, has a dream to marry a musician. After Ona’s death, and Jurgis's abandonment, she becomes a prostitute to help feed the few children left.
  • Teta Elzbieta Lukoszaite, Ona’s stepmother, takes care of the children. Toward the end of the book she becomes a beggar.
  • Grandmother Swan, another Lithuanian immigrant.
  • Dede Antanas, Jurgis’s father, contributes work despite his age and poor health; dies from a lung infection.
  • Jokubas Szedvilas, Lithuanian immigrant who owns a deli on Halsted Street
  • Edward Marcinkus, Lithuanian immigrant and friend of the family
  • Fisher, A Chicago millionaire whose passion is helping poor people in slums.
  • Tamoszius Kuszleika, a fiddler who becomes Marija's fiancé
  • Jonas Lukoszas, Teta Elzbieta brother, leaves the family in bad times and disappears
  • Stanislovas Lukoszas, Elzibeta's eldest son; he starts work at 13
  • Mike Scully (originally Tom Cassidy), the Democratic Party "boss" of the yards
  • Phil Connor, a boss at the factory where Ona works.Phil rapes Ona and forces her into prostitution.
  • Miss Henderson, Ona's superintendent at the wrapping-room
  • Antanas, a small boy, otherwise known as “Baby”.
  • Vilimas and Nikalojus, Vilimas is Elzbieta's second son, and Nikalojus her third son
  • Kristoforas, a crippled son of Elzbieta
  • Juozapas, another crippled son of Elzbieta
  • Kotrina, Elzbieta's daughter and Ona's half sister
  • Judge Pat Callahan, a crooked judge
  • Jack Duane, a thief whom Rudkus meets in prison
  • Madame Haupt, a midwife hired to help Ona
  • Freddie Jones, the son of a wealthy beef baron
  • Buck Halloran, an Irish "political worker" who oversees vote-buying operations
  • Bush Harper, a man who works for Mike Scully as a union spy
  • Ostrinski, a Polish immigrant and socialist
  • Tommy Hinds, the socialist owner of Hinds's Hotel.
  • Mr. Lucas, a socialist pastor and itinerant preacher
  • Nicholas Schliemann, a Swedish philosopher and socialist
  • Durham, a business man, he is Jurgis’s first employer

Publication history

Chicago meat inspectors in early 1906

Sinclair first published the book in serial form in 1905 for Appeal to Reason, the socialist newspaper that had supported his undercover investigation the previous year that inspired his writing the novel. His efforts to publish it as a book met with resistance. An employee at Macmillan wrote,

I advise without hesitation and unreservedly against the publication of this book which is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels that what is at the bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire to help the poor as hatred of the rich.[4]

After rejections by five publishers who found the work too shocking, Sinclair paid for the first printing himself. A shortened version of the novel was published by Doubleday, Page & Company on February 28, 1906. It has been in print ever since. Sinclair dedicated the book to the "Workingmen of America."[5]


Upton Sinclair intended to expose "the inferno of exploitation [of the typical American factory worker at the turn of the 20th Century],"[6] but the reading public fixed on food safety as the novel's most pressing issue. Sinclair admitted his celebrity arose, "not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef".[6] Some critics have attributed this response to the characters, most of whom, including Rudkus, have unpleasant qualities. The last section, concerning a socialist rally Rudkus attended, was later disavowed by Sinclair. But, his description of the meatpacking contamination captured readers' attention.[7]

Sinclair's account of workers falling into rendering tanks and being ground along with animal parts into "Durham's Pure Leaf Lard", gripped the public. The poor working conditions, and exploitation of children and women along with men, were taken to expose the corruption in meat packing factories.

The British politician Winston Churchill praised the book in a review.[8]

Federal response

President Theodore Roosevelt had described Sinclair as a "crackpot" because of his socialist positions.[9] He wrote privately to William Allen White, "I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth."[10] After reading The Jungle, Roosevelt agreed with some of Sinclair's conclusions. Roosevelt wrote, "radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist."[11] He assigned the Labor Commissioner Charles P. Neill and social worker James Bronson Reynolds to go to Chicago to investigate some meat packing facilities.

Learning about the visit, owners had their workers thoroughly clean the factories prior to the inspection, but Neill and Reynolds were still revolted by the conditions. Their oral report to Roosevelt supported much of what Sinclair portrayed in the novel, excepting the claim of workers falling into rendering vats.[12] Neill testified before Congress that the men had reported only "such things as showed the necessity for legislation."[13] That year, the Bureau of Animal Industry issued a report rejecting Sinclair's most severe allegations, characterizing them as "intentionally misleading and false," "willful and deliberate misrepresentations of fact," and "utter absurdity."[14]

Roosevelt did not release the Neill-Reynolds Report for publication. His administration submitted it directly to Congress on June 4, 1906.[15] Public pressure led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906; the latter established the Bureau of Chemistry (in 1930 renamed as the Food and Drug Administration).

Sinclair rejected the legislation, which he considered an unjustified boon to large meat packers. The government (and taxpayers) would bear the costs of inspection, estimated at $30,000,000 a year.[16][17] He complained about the public's misunderstanding of the point of his book in Cosmopolitan Magazine in October 1906 by saying, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."[18]

Continuing interest

The book has been in print since 1906 and is considered a classic of American protest literature. While Sinclair said he wanted to portray the harsh lives of working-class immigrants, the novel is often interpreted and taught as a journalist's account of the dismal working conditions in the meatpacking industry. Sinclair expressed the effects of grinding poverty, the absence of social programs, the unpleasant living and working conditions, and the hopelessness that people sank into, all which are contrasted with the deeply rooted corruption of the powerful. Sinclair put labor conditions at the forefront of his novel, as he wanted to encourage alternatives to American wage slavery.[19] A review by Jack London called the novel, "the Uncle Tom's Cabin of wage slavery."[20]



  1. ^ Brinkley, Alan (2010). "Chapter 17: Industrial Supremacy". The Unfinished Nation. McGrawHill. ISBN 978-0-07-338552-5.
  2. ^ "Upton Sinclair", Social History blog
  3. ^ Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle, Dover Thrift Editions, Note: pages viii-x
  4. ^ Upton Sinclair
  5. ^ Bloom, Harold. Editor, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, pp. 50-51, Infohouse Publishing, 2002
  6. ^ a b Sullivan, Mark (1996). Our Times. New York: Scribner. p. 222. ISBN 0-684-81573-7.
  7. ^ "Welcome to 'The Jungle'", Slate, July 2006
  8. ^ Arthur, Anthony. Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair, New York: Random House, 2006, pp. 84-85
  9. ^ Fulton Oursler, Behold This Dreamer! (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964), p. 417
  10. ^ July 31, 1906, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Elting E. Morison, ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951–54), Vol. 5, p. 340
  11. ^ "Sinclair, Upton (1878–1968)". Blackwell Reference Online. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  12. ^ Jane Jacobs, "Introduction", The Jungle, ISBN 0-8129-7623-1
  13. ^ U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Agriculture, Hearings Before the Committee on Agriculture...on the So-called "Beveridge Amendment" to the Agricultural Appropriation Bill, 59th Congress, 1st Session, 1906, p. 102
  14. ^ U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Agriculture, Hearings Before the Committee on Agriculture...on the So-called "Beveridge Amendment" to the Agricultural Appropriation Bill, 59th Congress, 1st Session, 1906, pp. 346–350
  15. ^ Conditions in Chicago Stockyards, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt website
  16. ^ Young, "The Pig That Fell into the Privy," p. 477
  17. ^ Upton Sinclair, "The Condemned-Meat Industry: A Reply to Mr. M. Cohn Armour", Everybody's Magazine, XIV, 1906, pp. 612-613
  18. ^ Bloom, Harold. editor, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Infobase Publishing, 2002, p. 11
  19. ^ Young, "The Pig That Fell into the Privy," p. 467
  20. ^ "Bio: Upton Sinclair", Social History

Further reading

External links