Anti Capitalist Views Of Upton Sinclair
In the world of economic competition that we live in today, many thrive and many are left to dig through trashcans. It has been a constant struggle throughout the modern history of society. One widely prescribed example of this struggle is Upton Sinclair's groundbreaking novel, The Jungle.
The Jungle takes the reader along on a journey with a group of recent Lithuanian immigrants to America. As well as a physical journey, this is a journey into a new world for them. They have come to America, where in the early twentieth century it was said that any man willing to work an honest day would make a living and could support his family. It is an ideal that all Americans are familiar with- one of the foundations that got American society where it is today.
However, while telling this story, Upton Sinclair engages the reader in a symbolic and metaphorical war against capitalism. Sinclair's contempt for capitalist society is present throughout the novel, from cover to cover, personified in the eagerness of Jurgis to work, the constant struggle for survival of the workers of Packingtown, the corruption of "the man" at all levels of society, and in many other ways.The story opens at the veselija, or wedding party of Jurgis and his new wife, Ona. They have just arrived from Chicago and are celebrating their marriage in a bar in their neighborhood.
It is a description of a large gathering of happy Lithuanian people enjoying a rare abundance of food, alcohol, and good times. There is music, dancing, singing, and many of the same things we would expect today at a wedding party. When hungry people gather outside the door, it is Lithuanian custom to invite them inside for their fill of food and drink. Near the end of the party, each male guest shares a dance with the bride and drops money into a hat held by Ona's stepmother, Teta Elzbieta, in order to pay for this party, which costs as much as many people would make in a year.The symbols of socialism and capitalism are present right from the start in this story.
Sinclair first depicts the Lithuanian event with many of the same things and the partygoers with many of the same values (i.e. getting drunk, dancing) as we might see today to give the reader a sense of identity with the Lithuanians. He is beginning to get the reader to sympathize with these people. The people pitch in together to pay, everyone has their fill of everything, and strangers are brought in and welcomed. This is a strong symbol of socialism, where everyone is considered an equal.
However, he mentions that sometimes, the barkeeps rip off the organizers of such parties by giving them poorer quality alcohol or overestimating the amount of alcohol consumed by the guests. This is a show of the swindling that Sinclair is characteristic of the "every man for himself" idea of capitalism.Some people leave the party without contributing to the family, and when Ona stresses about how they will pay, Jurgis says he will simply "work Harder." This builds sympathy for Jurgis and his almost superhuman work ethic. Sinclair also shows the poverty of the working class by having hungry people standing outside.
Sinclair is very detailed with his description of this party and occasionally uses the second person tense ("to spend such a sum, all in a single day of your life") to hit the reader with a more personalized understanding of exactly what these people are sacrificing. Overall, this party is the initial stage in his barrage on capitalism where he shows that when the immigrants came here, their values were pure, but just outside the door, or in the future, there was a dark change from the normal waiting for them.The area that most strongly illustrates the unfairness of capitalism that Sinclair is trying to show the reader is the plight of the workers in Packingtown. Reforms in working conditions were one of the main reasons that people were persuaded to join socialist workers' movements at this time.
When Ona and Jurgis first take a good look at the filthy meatpacking plants in Packingtown, Jurgis points and says, "tomorrow, I will go there and get a Job, and then we can have a place of our own. He gets a job sweeping up slaughtered cow guts in a factory. It is disgusting work and the stench sickens him but he is happy because he will make around two dollars for his twelve hour workday.The living conditions of the people in Packingtown also contribute to their misery in this new world. When they first come to America, they move into an overcrowded boardinghouse by the factories. They read an advertisement for houses that can be bought on payment plans.
Ona realizes that they can afford the payments, so they sign and move into the house, which is much more dilapidated than portrayed and not even fully completed. The arrangement for the house is that it is technically a rental until all the payments are made. Hidden charges continually surface in the agreement, causing the family to struggle pay it off.
This struggle for money overruns the family's love for each other, and destroys the wholesome values previously exhibited by the family. Jurgis and Ona drift further and further apart as times get worse, and when this is culminated by Jurgis' discovery of Ona's rape and his consequent beating of her boss, Jurgis goes to jail. The family is evicted, and right when Jurgis returns to them in the boarding house, Ona dies giving birth. There is absolutely no mercy given to this family. Sinclair shows them suffering as much as possible in order to show the complete negligence of capitalist society toward the people that it controls.
He depicts capitalism as a force just as unrelenting as disease or cold weather; it wipes out anyone who isn't strong enough to handle it.This idea brings a new aspect into the symbols of the story: social Darwinism. Darwin pioneered the idea of natural selection, with those best suited to survive thriving in their environments and those who can't adapt dying off. A good example of this idea is the prevalence of corruption in Packingtown.
From when the family is scammed at the bar and by the real estate company to when Jurgis is lured into an election scam and eventually joins the scam himself, this illustrates that the only way to survive in Packingtown is to cheat others. This is how people must adapt to the society.Sinclair also ridicules the American Dream throughout the novel. He introduces the main character as a very strong man with good morals who is willing to work himself to death to see his family thrive.
Jurgis is the embodiment of the American dream. The repeated use of the phrase "I will work harder" in the face of adversity shows the application of the American Dream. In this case, however, the amount of work someone is willing or able to do has nothing to do with his success in Packingtown. It is all about who somebody knows or whether or not they are willing to cheat others to advance.
After his newborn son dies in the mud, Jurgis abandons his family and starts running scams for Mike Scully. This shows the complete collapse of the American Dream. If the American Dream would work for anyone, then certainly that man should be Jurgis, but in the end, after being preyed upon when he was a naÃ¯ve newcomer, he preys upon the newer people with absolutely no remorse.
He beats a man into oblivion simply to rob him. When he reads about it in the newspaper, he doesn't care. Capitalism wiped the emotion clean out of him.Capitalism underwent a severe attack at the hands of Upton Sinclair in this novel.
By showing the misery that capitalism brought the immigrants through working conditions, living conditions, social conditions, and the overall impossibility to thrive in this new world, Sinclair opened the door for what he believed was the solution: socialism. With the details of the meatpacking industry, the government investigated and the public cried out in disgust and anger. The novel was responsible for the passage of The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
With the impact that Sinclair must have known this book would have, it is interesting that he also may have attempted to make it propaganda against capitalism and for socialism.
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