The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

You probably read the title of this post and thought “wow this kid is over 100 years behind on his reading.”  You may be right, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless.  I finished the book the other day and in reviewing The Jungle I think that it needs to be broken down into two different parts: the story and the last few chapters.

The story told by Sinclair is incredible.  Jurgis is one of the most interesting characters that I’ve ever read.  As a reader, you really start to feel for him as his life spirals out of control.  The vivid images used by Sinclair are some of the best in literary history, and that fact is easily backed up by the fact that the President of the United States himself ordered a government investigation of the meatpacking factories.  Best part about that?  It isn’t even what the book was about!  In my mind that is an impressive feat.  The early success of The Jungle was because of the grotesque scenes described about the meatpacking in Chicago.  Readers were drawn in by that and not its Socialist plea.

Socialism brings me to the second part in reviewing The Jungle.  The last 4ish chapters are unlike the rest of the novel.  Jurgis is more or less forgotten about or at least his story is.  He is there physically in the scenes, but not in the sense that he had been in the rest of the book.  Sinclair uses these chapters to go on his ling Socialist soapbox with speeches that go on for multiple pages.  The multi-chapter allegory just seems out of place in the context of the novel.  Even Sinclair himself has expressed his disappointment with the ending because he admittedly didn’t know how to end it.

What amazed me about the novel was how relevant it still was today.  The political graft is still around today but with different industries as the focal point.  Wage slaves still exist to some extent, but the industries are different.  There is so much that you can take from the novel and wonder if we as a society really did learn anything from the social issues laid out by Sinclair.

I would certainly recommend this book to anybody that has not read it.  A lot of people I know read it in high school, but somehow it skipped over me.  As for Upton Sinclair, I know that he wrote a lot of things in his career.  To be honest, I’m not too interested in political, and especially Socialist, babble, but I do really want to read his novel Oil! which was the basis for my favorite Daniel Day-Lewis movie There Will Be Blood.  Come to think of it, with the graphic nature of The Jungle, it would make a very interesting modern day movie.  Until then though, you will have to read the book, which I highly recommend.

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