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“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, Book Review Example

Pages: 4

Words: 993

Book Review

The title of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle refers to industrialization in general, and, in particular, turn of the last century America’s meat-packing factories.

Arguably, the main point of Sinclair’s work is to disclose the primitivism and inhumanity behind what is normally conceived as technology and progress. The industrialization of the working class is often portrayed as consistent with the development of society away from agrarian forms of life, but with The Jungle, Sinclair wishes to argue that such “progress” is a basic primitivism. Accordingly, Sinclair wrote this book in order to critique and expose the illusions of capitalist and industrial progress, showing that the living conditions of the average and common man have not changed, despite the apparent advances in technology and styles of work and labor.

The book was written at the beginning of the twentieth century, more specifically 1906, in which the industrial revolution reached its most highest point. The modernization of the types of labor that the working class carried out is viewed by the mainstream discourse as social advancement. The relevance of this time period is for Sinclair clear, because he wants to show that such narratives of progress are a myth.

After inquiring into the biography of Upton Sinclair, it appears clear that he functioned as a type of political activist, for example, also running for governor of California. His biography is consistent with the themes that are explored in The Jungle, to the extent that as a social activist, Sinclair wants to expose the social injustices that confront workers who labor in an industrial setting.

I would suggest that The Jungle accurately reflects many of the historical realities that existed at the time and place in which Sinclair wrote his work. For example, from a political perspective, there was a certain tension existed in between developing issues of worker’s rights and the conditions that workers actually had to function within. The socialist movement, which was strong in Europe and wished to promote worker’s rights against the elite ruling class, is to  a degree expressed in Sinclair’s work, since he seems to be inclined to portray the poor conditions of the average worker. From a business perspective, Sinclair also captures the theme of the tension between capitalist owners of production and the average worker. In other words, industrialization sharply defined class difference: Sinclair, I think, accurately describes the desire for the capitalists to acquire profit at any cost, forgetting the conditions of the worker. Urban life is furthermore described in terms of the centering of life around the place of the factory: workers move from an agricultural lifestyle to the urban-production lifestyle following capitalism and industrialization. Lastly, immigrant life seems to be accurately reflected, since immigrants came to America as a type of underclass that was forced to take the lowest jobs on the social ladder.

Immigrants at the turn of the last century can be said to have experienced two major problems: firstly, discrimination based upon their origins, and secondly, a lack of opportunity in regards to the type of jobs that they could work. In Sinclair’s work, these problems become evident, in so far as a lack of opportunity and a systematic racism define the immigrant’s life. In the last hundred years, it seems that this situation has not changed: for example, if we consider the underclass from Mexico, these individuals perform tasks that the majority of the population does not want to perform. At the same time, these immigrants are also discriminated against.

By attempting to perform a clear description of the conditions of workers, Sinclair tends towards socialism. Capitalism emphasizes profit and competition, entirely overlooking the human dimension of society and the Christian viewpoint to look after one’s neighbor. In this regard, Sinclair gives a strong socialist critique of capitalism, showing the exploitative side of capitalism. I think that Sinclair’s points are valid: where are ethics and compassion in capitalism? Capitalism emphasizes earning money and other material gains at any cost: what Sinclair wants to say is that capitalism is the most primitive system ever designed because it turns workers into slaves for an elite class. I think he succeeds in conveying this point through the vivid imagery of his narrative in The Jungle. The fact that one hundred years after Sinclair’s work, we still do not realize the evils and selfishness of capitalism, despite for example the recent economic crash, exposes the general idiocy of society.

I think the strength of Sinclair’s book is that it shows some of the inhumane conditions which capitalism produces. It therefore serves as a strong argument against the propaganda of capitalism that is spread by the dominant American ideology:  “if you work hard, you can acquire anything.” Hard work does not automatically lead to success, and Sinclair proves this and exposes this myth. What I did not like in Sinclair’s work is that he did not go further in this regard: he should have more explicitly exposed the selfishness of capitalism that puts a large majority of the population in chains at the expense of an elite ruling class. In other words, Sinclair did not do enough to expose the myth of capitalism in America: simply put, he should have been even more radical.

The most important thing I learned from Sinclair’s book  is the long history of capitalist exploitation. The most disturbing aspect of this is that nothing has essentially changed: the elite minority continues to rule the majority working class. This can only be described as a tragedy: Sinclair exposes that the brainwashing of American society has lasted for over and at least one hundred years.

I think Sinclair’s work provides a relevant critique of capitalism and the illusions of the American Dream that should be read by all students. I was both disturbed by the narrative, but also connected it to my own time period and biography. It is an important work that, even though it is written over a century ago, can still contribute to debunking the system we currently live in.

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