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The Jungle (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (B&N Classics) Mass Market Paperback – April 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Series: B&N Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593080085
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593080082
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (422 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Maura Spiegel's Introduction to The Jungle

Upton Sinclair described the site of Chicago's meatpacking industry, Packingtown, as "the greatest aggregation of labor and capital ever gathered in one place." The supreme achievement of American capitalism, Sinclair would undertake to reveal, was also its greatest disgrace. At the age of twenty-six, Sinclair set out to write The Jungle in the spirit of Saint George battling the dragon. His was an age of capitalist Titans, of magnates whose wealth, power, and hubris seemed unlimited: A single man owned a million acres of the Texas Panhandle, an American coal tycoon attempted to buy the Great Wall of China, and in the Midwest a combination known as the Beef Trust tightly controlled the production and sale of meat through pervasive wage and price fixing and the unrelenting exploitation of the stockyard workforce. Sinclair's was also an age when writers, both journalists and novelists, were experiencing a thrilling sense of their own efficacy. The investigative exposé-what President Theodore Roosevelt would unflatteringly dub "muckraking," after the character in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678, 1684) who could "look no way but downward, with a muckrake in his hands"-had taken the magazine and publishing world by storm, had grabbed hold of the popular reader, and was shining a bright light on the ever-darkening realms of child labor, prisons, insurance companies, and, foremost, American enterprise and its role in the creation of a new American class of impoverished industrial wage slaves.



With their tremendous descriptive and explanatory power, books such as Henry Demarest Lloyd's Wealth against Commonwealth (1894), a study of American business syndicates and trusts, Ida Tarbell's History of the Standard Oil Company (1904), and Lincoln Steffens's The Shame of the Cities (1904), an exposé of municipal corruption and the ties between government and business in six American cities, had a significant impact on public debate, turning uncertainty into indignation and despair into outrage. Combining rigorous research and firsthand reporting with moralistic rhetoric, these works revealed how the contemporary world worked, how businesses were being transformed into empires, and how these empires were bleeding the public in an exploitative relationship starkly delineated by Lloyd on the first page of Wealth against Commonwealth (see "For Further Reading"): "Holding back the riches of earth, sea, and sky from their fellows who famish and freeze in the dark, they [the syndicates and trusts] . . . assert the right, for their private profit, to regulate the consumption by the people of the necessaries of life, and to control production, not by the needs of humanity, but by the desires of few for dividends."



Energized by their sense of mission, these journalists also understood that at that moment, when magazines and books were reaching wider audiences than ever before, there was no more powerful means at their disposal than the written word. They had a confidence in the power of their medium that writers seldom experience today. Not yet competing with motion pictures, either dramatic or documentary, these writers seemed to understand that, for the moment at least, the written word was the document of truth. Even photographs could not vie with narrative for getting at what was real. Consider, in this regard, the reader's first exposure to the packing yards in The Jungle, when Jurgis and his family take a tour. As spectators, outsiders, what they see is an immensely impressive system; Jurgis himself is full of admiration; the family is "breathless with wonder" at the magnitude, the efficiency; "it seemed to them impossible of belief that anything so stupendous could have been devised by mortal man." This first impression, like a panoramic set of photographs, lacked narrative dimension. As the novel unfolds, we discover, along with Jurgis, that only through time and its unraveling- that is, through narrative-can the real meaning of these impressive images be disclosed and comprehended.



Given the great success of the muckraking journalists, and Sinclair's admiration for them (including his friend Lincoln Steffens), it is worth examining why Sinclair did not choose to write his Packingtown book as a journalistic exposé, especially considering that he had written a series of articles on the failed meatpackers strike of 1904. In choosing fiction over a journalistic account, Sinclair was responding to a moment when novelists were also taking on the real and exploring new techniques for storytelling, and as a consequence enjoying a heady period of reinvigoration and a renewed sense of their own persuasive power. Frank Norris, whose highly successful The Octopus (1901) was based on an actual clash in 1880 between farmers in California's San Joaquin valley and the Southern Pacific Railroad, wrote in a 1902 essay:

If the novel were not one of the most important factors of modern life, . . . if its influence were not greater than all the pulpits, than all the newspapers between the oceans, it would not be so important that its message should be true. . . . [The people] look to-day as they never have looked before, as they never will look again, to the writer of fiction to give them an idea of Life beyond their limits, and they believe him as they never have believed before and never will again" ("The Responsibilities of the Novelist," Critic 16, December 1902; in Documents of American Realism and Naturalism, edited by Donald Pizer). Novelists had their own distinct aims and responsibilities, not only to represent "the true" but to give symbolic dimension to the new and strange. They sought to find language to describe the urban blight that was growing and spreading at frightening speed, drawing a vast population to toil and live in a new kind of poverty, to struggle against a new kind of filth and stench, to look upon a new kind of ugliness, and to endure new illnesses, injuries, and perils. The speed at which change was occurring intensified the sense that these transmutations were unstoppable. (In 1864 the Chicago meatpacking plants and stockyards were built, and were up and running within a matter of six months; within a short time every railroad that entered Chicago went to the yards, creating a ribbon of 100 miles of track surrounding the new plants that grew to 250 miles by 1905.) Such vastness and efficiency possessed the power to awe, and to overwhelm. Sinclair, and writers of his school, sought to represent the inhuman magnitude of industrial expansion, but also to give it symbolic shape-a human comprehensibility.

Although Sinclair portrays the crushing, machine-like force of a man-made hell, he turned for his title to an image from the natural world (as Frank Norris had done in choosing the octopus to describe the spread of the railway), to a place that, particularly in this period, evoked a sense of primal fear, a "heart of darkness." The Jungle represented a setting inhospitable to human life, where "civilized" man does not thrive, where life is an unrelenting and ultimately a dehumanizing battle. From our perspective, at the other end of the twentieth century, Sinclair's world had yet to arrive at the shared symbolic reference points for man-made horror provided for us by systematic genocide, concentration camps, and industrial warfare.



For many writers of this new school of realism (or what some describe as Naturalism, which I discuss below), there was a sense of liberation from the requirement to tell a story; now the conditions of life were the story. (If for postmodernist writers, reality is no longer realistic, for writers of this period, reality was a new frontier, vivid and legible.) Exploring new narrative structures, novelists, following Émile Zola's lead, were hanging their narratives on the framework not of an individual life, but of an industry or the history of a commodity. Zola had built his novels around coal mines, the emergence of the department store, stock market speculation, even a Parisian laundry. But when Sinclair determined to write a novel about the packing yards, he hit upon more than an apt framing device, more even than an industry that needed to be exposed for its heinous practices; consciously or not, he hit upon the subject that would give his novel its most enduring quality. The Jungle is, arguably, the only muckraking novel of its era that is still read for more than historical interest. In the slaughterhouse Sinclair found both the symbol and the objective correlative for the condition of the worker in that moment, as well as a trope for the entire twentieth century.

Customer Reviews

This book has a good story thought can get wordy in some parts.
Shawn
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is a heartrending story about a Lithuanian family's struggle when they come to America during the Industrial Revolution.
DTP
The Jungle concludes with Jurgis very committed to Socialism and willing to work assiduously to fight against the evils of capitalism.
"khadijah-nassiry"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Edward Ramirez on July 29, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus and his new bride Ona, along with several other extended family members, try to survive in the "Back of the Yards" district of Chicago. Strapping Jurgis quickly finds employment in the meat packing business and the family begins to eke out a very modest living.

The appeal of home ownership quickly becomes their undoing. They invest their life savings as the downpayment and due to unplanned costs of homeownership (interest, taxes, repairs, etc), they quickly fall behind in their finances. This requires all family members to seek employment, which allows them to hold their heads above water. Unfortunately, the seasonal swings of work, ill health and brutal Chicago winters lead to further financial struggles.

A variety of further circumstances such as death, illness and infidelity lead to choices that continue to test the morals of the characters. Each struggle with the choices necessary for their survival. All are changed forever by the "evils" of the system.

The story details the horrific working conditions of the Stockyards laborers, the deplorable practices followed by the meat packing industry itself and the corruption associated with a capitalistic system. Yes, socialism is an underlying theme in this novel that becomes more evident at novel end.

Overall a very well written novel that provides a glimpse into the despicable conditions endured by the labor force of the Stockyards. No issues with the Kindle edition.
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81 of 83 people found the following review helpful By kelsie VINE VOICE on July 7, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" is one of the handful of books throughout all of history, perhaps, that have encapsulated the crying voices of the oppressed. While many readers and politicians at the time of its publication (and since) have focused on the intolerable conditions in which American food products were produced, the major thrust in "The Jungle" is not in regards to the ill-treatment of our food; it is in regards to the ill-treatment of our workers.

The repeated sufferings of Jurgis and his family are akin to an overwhelming symphony of sorrowful songs. As his family is driven deeper into debt, his body worn down, and his life's zeal and love slowly strangled, Jurgis' desperation becomes palpable, and if you can't sympathize with his feelings at the loss of his family's home--a structure they worked so hard for--check your pulse. You might be dead.

The book contains some of the most horrific depictions in all of literature, including a mercifully oblique reference to a child's death by being eaten alive by rats. Although the novel focuses on Jurgis primarily, it is the children--the laboring little people--who elicit the most sympathy in this reader's view. Struggling to support their family, escaping extremely dangerous situations (one little girl is nearly dragged into an alley and raped), sleeping on the street, and begging desperately for food--the appalling conditions being visited upon children as described in "The Jungle" still have the power to arouse strong anger and outrage, over a century after its initial publication.
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88 of 97 people found the following review helpful By sporkdude on July 9, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm the type of guy that can't stand many literary classics. I'm sorry, but I read a book for entertainment, not for metephors, meaning or symbolism. This is why it seems strange that I highly recommend this book.
This book chronicles the life of immigrants from Lithuania who settle in Chicago in hopes of obtaining the American Dream. The way Sinclair describes the hardships of this family, it almost feels like you're the one who's suffering. Though depressing, the amount of detail engulfs the reader.
Though the book is famous for exposing the meat packing industry's unsanitary conditions, it really is just a minor part of this book. The worker's rights, the racism, the corruption, and the poverty is what this book is all about. Though I'm a firm believer of Adam Smith and his invisible hand, half way through the book, I was searching for the local Socialist recruiter. Well, not really, but it will open anyone's mind.
Except for the end, where it was just pure Socialist propoganda, this book is fantastic.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 27, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Excellent book that tells the story of Jurgis, a Lithuanian immigrant who finds himself stuck in the Chicago stockyards. It traces his life in America, telling about all the horridness in the meat packing industry, which prompted the Food and Drug Act shortly after the book was written. It's a true account of what went on in the early 1900's, told in a fictional sort of way. It then proceeds through different manners of living at the bottom of society (i.e., theft, prostitution, political graft, etc.). The last few chapters, though, are mainly Sinclair preaching and raving about the benefits of socialism, which I think ends the story of Jurgis earlier than it needed to be. However, this book was written for the purpose of change during that time, and it probably did help considerably. However, if you also read "Fast Food Nation," which I highly reccommend, you have to wonder, really, how much has really changed? The faces may be different, but is the public not still led to believe by the government and the packing industry that all is fine and dandy with what we eat? Ugh, read both books... they'll scare you.
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