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Upton Sinclair, Jr’s, View of Struggle as Depicted in His Book, The Jungle

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Welcome To The Jungle

Not once in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair does the author reference the title in the text, but the meaning of it is grounded deep in the writing. According to Merriam-Webster, a jungle is defined as “a confused or disordered mass of objects, something that baffles or frustrates by its tangled or complex character; a place of ruthless struggle for survival.” In the early nineteen-hundreds, the Packingtown area of Chicago embodies perfectly a jungle. The starvation, conditions, and sheer expanse of devastation demonstrate organized chaos at its peak while animalistic behavior tangles with physical needs in the filth of the Chicago stockyards. Sooner or later, this hunger catches up to many of the main characters and they turn to immoral activities in order to survive. Sinclair points at this with an abundance of metaphors which include personification and the breakdown of human choices into primal actions. In this book, the jungle is not a literal jungle, but yet a fight for survival on the capitalist pyramid.

When in the packing houses, Sinclair describes the pigs on their way to the slaughter almost eerily: “One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe…. Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life” (Sinclair 31). The picture that Sinclair paints with these words is not one typical of a city life; instead, it reveals the true savagery and relentlessness of the people in Chicago and the city itself. This quote flawlessly takes the lives of the factory workers and condenses it into a few sentences, summarizing one thing: nothing is safe in this city. Jobs, money, a place to live, and even a life can be taken away at a moment’s notice. By taking this sense of constant fear and placing it on something as na?eve and innocent as a pig, Sinclair perfectly captures the emotions and feelings of those coming to America for the first time.

Sinclair also notes on these feral instincts in places outside of the packing houses: “Here was Durham’s, for instance, owned by a man who was trying to make as much money out of it as he could, and did not care in the least how he did it; and underneath him, ranged in ranks and grades like an army, were managers and superintendents and foremen, each one driving the man next below him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible. And all the men of the same rank were pitted against each other; the accounts of each were kept separately, and every man lived in terror of losing his job, if another made a better record than he. So from top to bottom the place was simply a seething caldron of jealousies and hatreds; there was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it where a man counted for anything against a dollar. And worse than there being no decency, there was not even any honesty. The reason for that? Who could say? It must have been old Durham in the beginning; it was a heritage which the self-made merchant had left to his son, along with his millions” (Sinclair 84). Even in something as simple as a store, the people are so desperate they can not afford to get behind or think of others. They cheat their way to the top because it is their obligation to survive, and even then they get nowhere. Necessities in life are not given to them, so they believe it is in their right to trick the system to get what they need. These people are desperate, and from that exudes the savagery that the jungle of Chicago is built upon.

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