The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
Why I read it:
I don't know. I have occasionally thought about reading the book for a long time. Maybe I was spurred by homesickness, but I really new very little about the book other than it was about the meat packing industry in Chicago. I didn't even reread the the book's description before I dove in.
What I thought it was really about:
Although the descriptions of the meat packing industry were disturbing, I thought this book was actually about poverty, injustice, the failure of the American dream, human motivations, and politics.
What stood out to me:
The thing that most astounded and saddened me about this book was how many of the themes from 1906 are currently in play in America. He describes systems (sometimes exactly as they exist to today) of:
- Predatory bank practices
- Female sex trafficking and sex slavery
- Extremes of wealth disparity
- Bankruptcy due to medical illness
- The progression from slight prosperity to profound poverty to jail and criminality
Of course, I am currently very sensitive to these types of social justice issues.
Today, I can appreciate why this book is considered a classic. Although it is a novel, I had the sense that it was a real look into what life was like in the early 1900’s, and what it can look like when people struggle without a social safety net. As I sit and recollect the book, I have a sense of what the feel of the streets was probably like - sights, sounds, and even smells (ewww!).
At times, the tragedies that besieged the family were overwhelming and seemed to border on absurd, but after a pause I recognized that I have known families who have suffered to a similar degree.
I enjoyed the ending of the story, which strangely seemed to come a few chapters before the end of the book. I was not in love with those last few chapters, but that is a conversation better had one-to-one, and if you have read the book.
An in-text book Summary?
"All that he had ever felt in his whole life seemed to come back to him at once, and with one new emotion, hardly to be described. That he should have suffered such oppressions and such horrors was bad enough; but that he should have been crushed and beaten by them, that he should have submitted, and forgotten, and lived in peace—ah, truly that was a thing not to be put into words, a thing not to be borne by a human creature, a thing of terror and madness!" (p 191, location 5559)