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Literature / The Jungle

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"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
Upton Sinclair

The Jungle is a novel by socialist journalist Upton Sinclair, first published in 1906. It was the result of his muckraking journalism on the shabby treatment of workers in meat packing plants in Chicago. However, it is best remembered today for being the catalyst of today's food standards.

Unmarked spoilers ahead!

The novel chronicles the life of Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus, who marries a young woman named Ona at the beginning of the novel, and with her and his extended family, moves to the United States to seek new opportunities. Settling down in the Packingtown area of Chicago, Jurgis initially works in the meat packing plants. This job, however hard he works at it, is not enough by itself to support his family, so several of the other members, like Ona's cousin Marija Berczynskas and his brother-in-law Stanislovas (who is only a child), must take up work as well. The family settles in a house they can barely afford and is poorly constructed, and later on, Jurgis is fired from his job.

Several members of the family die over the years. Jurgis, by this point, has had enough, so he leaves town and spends some time wandering the surrounding countryside as a hobo. He eventually returns to Chicago as an itinerant laborer, and for a time, works for the corrupt political machine of the city. When he finally reunites with the family, he finds Marija working as a prostitute to support them. Jurgis eventually joins the Socialist party intended to do something about the plight of the city's workers; the novel ends with a speech that ends with "CHICAGO WILL BE OURS!"

The book was intended to promote socialism as the only savior for poor industrial workers. But apparently, most readers were so disgusted with the book's description of the revolting conditions in the meat packing industry that they stopped reading then and there, because it led to one of the most famous cases of Misaimed Fandom.

This book contains examples of:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Regarding Socialists: "Some of them drank, and some of them swore, and some of them ate pie with their knives."
  • Author Tract: In favor of Sinclair's socialist beliefs; this is made especially obvious towards the end.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The whole message of the book, being an Author Tract for socialism, showing how capitalism victimizes and exploits workers, and produces pretty gross meat in the bargain.
  • Child by Rape: Quite possibly the child Ona dies giving birth to, given the numerous times she went to visit her former boss for him to rape her, combined with the possible lessening of hers and Jurgis's sex life.
  • Crapsack World: An archetypal one.
  • Deus Angst Machina: All manner of misfortune befalls Jurgis and his family, such as the death of his father, his baby, his wife and numerous family members.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Little Antanas, the first child Ona and Jurgis have together.
  • Death by Childbirth: Ona dies giving birth to her second child.
  • Defiled Forever: Ona considers herself to be this as a result of what she does in an effort to ensure the family's financial security. Also, Marija tells Jurgis later on that now that she has gone into the prostitution business, she won't be able to get work anywhere else. It is also played up for drama as this, even if it's not stated outright.
  • Dystopia: As one can be.
  • Eaten Alive: Little Stanislovas's ultimate fate. After reuniting with his family for the second time, Jurgis learns that he was eaten by rats.
  • Human Resources: Sinclair's account of workers falling into rendering tanks and being ground, along with animal parts, into "Durham's Pure Leaf Lard".
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Jurgis, after Ona's death.
  • Idiot Ball: Jurgis knows his family needs his income to survive. He also knows that beating up Ona's boss will land him in jail for a good long while, but he does it anyway. This sets off the chain of tragedies which he so bemoans later in the book. Then again, it's hard to be objective about the situation when someone's raped your wife and forced her to prostitute herself.
  • Inherent in the System: The narration points out several times that the small predators on the workers are being preyed upon by larger predators and on up the ladder, and that this is a natural result of capitalism.
  • Innocent Swearing: Little Antanas learns "God damn" and starts repeating it after his father reacts to his saying it with laughter.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: In an argument between two advocates of socialism about whether or not Christianity is a benefit or detriment to society, Schliemann (the anti-Christianity debater) admits that he has no problem with Jesus himself.
  • Karma Houdini: Phil Connor, Ona's boss, rapist, and pimp once he's forced her into prostitution, is quite confident that he'll get away with all his crimes scott-free thanks to his friends in the government and justice system. Jurgis gives him a beating twice over, but he never faces any long-term consequences for being a despicable human being, and he gets acquitted the one time he stands trial.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: It's unclear whether the child Ona dies giving birth to is actually Jurgis's child or her boss/rapist Phil Connor's. All signs seem to point to Phil Connor being the father, but it's never confirmed either way.
  • Nightmarish Factory: Meat packing industry.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Ditto. Truth in Television, real factory conditions like this were a big part of the reason OSHA was created, though Sinclair massively exaggerated a few of the images. Like cannibalism.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: "This is no joke and no fairy story" precedes the descriptions of what is going into the food. Despite the fact that Sinclair was indeed making up, or at least greatly exaggerating much of what he says about the meat (and shining a light on the things he really wasn't making up led to the creation of laws to end such practices).
  • Not So Similar: The book points out that not all leaders in the socialist party are of the same thinking, which is fair enough, but then goes on to say that the leaders in the Democrat and Republican parties are, in a bit of a double standard.
  • The Promised Land: Chicago. Of Cynical Flavor B.
  • Screaming Birth: Ona. Justified, since the baby comes out arm first. This is fairly uncommon in real life, and is almost invariably lethal without a C-section.
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: The infamous depiction of workers falling into the machinery and ending up being sold as lard.
  • Sex Slave: Ona is a victim of this, and Marija has seen others get forced into prostitution.
  • Sickening Slaughterhouse: The Trope Codifier.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Little Antanas, for Jurgis, but not for long.
  • Steel Mill: Jurgis works briefly in one. Described favorably as a workplace compared to meat packing industry.
  • Tragic Stillbirth: Ona's second child ends up stillborn due to labor complications. Ona herself dies during the birthing process, leaving Jurgis utterly devastated.
  • Trauma Conga Line: What Jurgis experiences. His father dies and then they have to quickly come up with money to pay for his funeral. The children all have to be pulled out of school to work to support the family, one by one, in spite of their hopes that they would get a decent education. Then Jurgis finds out that his wife Ona has been repeatedly submitting to rape by one of her former bosses to ensure financial security for the family and is now pregnant as well. Jurgis punches out the boss in revenge and goes to jail for it. When he finally gets out, he finds out that his family has been evicted from their house and are now living in a garret. To make matters worse, he can't find work and when Ona is in labor, he goes to find a midwife, who charges a fee that Jurgis can't afford. A short while after the midwife gets there, she tells them that there's nothing she can do and both Ona and her child die. A short while after that, Jurgis's child, the only thing he has left of Ona, drowns when he plays in the street. Jurgis leaves for a while from the stress he's gone through and to look for work and when he gets back, he finds out that Marija has become a prostitute and little Stanislovas is dead. Essentially, the entire book is this.