Title Profile & Character Information

The Jungle

Annotation
1906 bestseller shockingly reveals intolerable labor practices and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards as it tells the brutally grim story of a Slavic family that emigrates to America full of optimism but soon descends into numbing poverty, moral degradation, and despair. A fiercely realistic American classic that will haunt readers long after they've finished the last page.


Author Notes
  Jane Jacobs is one of the most original economic and sociological thinkers of our day. Her books include the classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities and, most recently, The Nature of Economies, both of which are available in Modern Library clothbound editions. She lives in Toronto. Upton Beall Sinclair was born on September 20, 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. His father was an alcoholic liquor salesman from an aristocratic Virginian family whose fortunes had been reduced by the Civil War, and his mother was a devout, practical woman from a wealthy and prominent Baltimore family. The relative poverty of his mother and father stood in sharp contrast to the privilege enjoyed by his mother's relatives. This disparity, familiar to him at an early age, had an influence he would later cite as fundamental to his adoption of socialism. At ten years of age, Sinclair's family moved to New York where, as a teenager, he began writing articles and jokes for local newspapers and adventure stories for boys' magazines, an occupation that financed his education at the City University of New York and an uncompleted law degree at Columbia. He also at this time began writing novellas, averaging more than one a week, but his writing was of unremarkable quality. Following graduation, his writing became more serious. He produced several sentimental novels and an ambitious epic about the Civil War based on his family's history entitled Manassas: A Novel of the War (1904). Although Manassas never received the critical acclaim that Sinclair hoped for, it was during his year of dedicated research that he made his first serious inquiry into socialism and began writing for socialist newspapers and journals throughout the country, most importantly Appeal to Reason and later The Masses. Shortly after the publication of Manassas, Sinclair was assigned by the editor of Appeal to Reason to investigate working conditions in Chicago's meatpacking plants. The result of his observations, The Jungle (1906), was an overwhelming success and ensured him a permanent place among America's social critics. Although its original intention was to expose the exploitation of the factories' workers, readers instead reacted to his description of contaminated meat and unhygienic processing methods. The public's outcry was such that Congress immediately passed the nation's first meat inspection and pure food acts. Sinclair later said of its effect, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach." In the wake of his success with The Jungle, Sinclair continued to write topical muckraking novels exposing various social ills on a variety of topics such as the plight of miners in King Coal (1917), the Teapot Dome scandal in Oil! (1927), and the injustice of the American court system in Boston: A Documentary Novel of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case (1928). The latter was a fictional treatment of a case in which two immigrant socialists were accused and convicted of murder while robbing a factory in Boston, and is remembered as being the best of Sinclair's muckraking works. Shortly after reading Boston, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said that he believed Sinclair to be "one of the greatest novelists in the world." Apart from his writing, Sinclair formed several socialist organizations, including the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. With the proceeds from The Jungle, he established a communal living center in New Jersey called Hellicon Hall, which was destroyed by fire a year after it was built. He also ran several failed attempts for Congress and in 1933 ran for governor of California, winning the Democratic primary but losing by a narrow margin in the general election. He recounted his race for governor in several books, including I, Governor of California (1933) and I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked (1935). Following America's entrance into World War II, Sinclair developed a greater interest in international affairs, especially in the rise of authoritarian regimes in Europe. This interest is reflected in the Lanny Budd novels, the books that Sinclair himself regarded as "the most important part" of his literary career. Widely popular at the time of their publication, these books, written between 1940 and 1953, were a set of eleven historical novels about Lanny Budd, an American agent present for virtually every major historical event of his time, and included Dragon's Teeth (1942), which won the Pulitzer Prize. Towards the end of his life, Sinclair published several autobiographical works, including My Lifetime in Letters (1960), a collection of correspondence with people such as George Bernard Shaw, Jack London, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He also reworked and added to his previous collections of memoirs to produce The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962). Sinclair died on November 25, 1968, in a nursing home in Bound Brook, New Jersey.
Characters
NameRudkus, Jurgis
GenderMale
OccupationLaborer
TraitsLithuanian
Immigrant

GenreClassic
Literary
Sociological
Political
Fiction
TopicsImmigrants
Search for a better life
Working classes
Poverty
Hardship
Meat industry
Food industry
Corporate greed
Injustice
Family tragedy
Moral decay
Socialism
SettingChicago, Illinois
Illinois