Sinclair's Purpose in Writing "The Jungle"

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Upton Sinclair wrote this book for a couple of reasons. First

and foremost, he tries to awaken the reader to the terrible

living conditions of immigrants in the cities around the turn of

the century. Chicago has the most potent examples of these

conditions. Secondly, he attempts to show the advantages of

socialism in helping to remedy the problems of a society such as

the one that exists in Chicago at this time.

Sinclair accomplishes his objectives with an extremely

powerful story. Jurgis Rudkus and his family seem to be an

average immigrant family of the period. They are not wealthy and

they are easily fooled by schemes designed to take what little

they have. The language barrier encountered by these people is a

major factor in allowing them to be swindled. The immigrants of

this period tend to trust anyone who is fluent in their native


This fact is put to use twice early in their time in

America. A Lithuanian lawyer is sought to read over the contract

for the purchase of their house. Jurgis is suspicious when the

lawyer and the agent are on a first name basis. However, when

the lawyer tells him that it is a legal and fair document, Jurgis

believes him. The lawyer does not tell him of the loopholes that

will eventually lead to the loss of the house.

After Jurgis works in the packing house for a while, a man

tells him in Lithuanian that he can now become a citizen. Jurgis

is then registered to vote, and told about one of the candidates.

Nothing is said of the other candidate, so he votes for the man

that he is told of, and receives money for this vote.

Another problem faced by most of the immigrants of Chicago is

making a living. Jurgis gets a job on the first day trying. He

is paid the princely sum of $1.25 a day. In Lithuania, this is a

lot of money. With the wages of himself and his brother, the

entire family should be able to keep solvent. Due to the hidden

charges for the house, he finds that he is dreadfully wrong.

Eventually, all of the family members must seek work, just to

survive. Life becomes a 'hand-to-mouth' proposition. Even after

the family loses the house, things do not get any easier.

During this time period, there is no such thing as job

security. All of the packing houses have a 'speed-up' policy.

If a worker did not keep up the pace, there are thousands of

hungry people in the streets begging for work. This leads to

very dangerous working conditions. As Jurgis finds out, even the

slightest accident can lead to the loss of a job. After his

recovery from a sprained ankle, Jurgis must join the thousands in

the streets looking for work. The way that the family must live

leads to the death of several of the family members. Among these

are Jurgis' father, Dede Antanas; his wife, Ona; and his son,

little Antanas. After these tragedies, Jurgis leaves Chicago for

a time, and 'hobos it' in the country. In doing this, he finds a

way of life that is similar to the one which he left in

Lithuania. In the winter, however, Jurgis must return to the


Upon his return, he sees the other side of the coin. He

becomes involved in crime, graft, and vote buying. He is now the

man who goes around registering new immigrants to vote, and pays

them money for it. Jurgis finds that there is a comfortable

living to be made doing this. However, he is still confronted

with the problem of fleeting success.

During this period, much racial unrest in present in the

country. People do not like immigrants, because they take the

jobs and they drink too much. Sinclair addresses both of these

gripes in his book. The 'speeding-up' is the reason that the

jobs go to immigrants, who are willing to work for anything. The

living conditions are the reason for the excessive drinking,

according to Sinclair. Jurgis most stay out of the cold of

winter to survive. There is no other place for him to go except

a saloon. He must drink to stay inside for a while. If he

drinks, he receives food as a bonus. This consumes most of his

savings when he is out of work.

Near the end of the book, Sinclair accomplishes his second

objective. While Jurgis is trying to find a warm place to be, he

happens upon a socialist rally. Sinclair attempts to show the

reader that socialism could have averted all of Jurgis' problems.

Sinclair succeeds in getting his point across. The reader is

brought into this appalling life that Jurgis is forced to lead,

and then is offered a solution to the problems presented.

Another reform that Sinclair had mot planned on was the

reform of the Meat Industry. The conditions depicted in the

packing houses is disgusting. During this time, American meat

products were not accepted by many countries because of the poor

quality. The Food and Drug Administration is created to clean up

the industry. This actually benefits the packers. After the

clean-up, U. S. meat is imported by many countries, opening

up fresh markets for the packers. Upton Sinclair is supposed

to have said that he aimed at the public's heart, and by

accident he hit it in the stomach.

This work paints a very vivid picture of the world of the

immigrant of the early 1900's. It makes the reader think about

the injustices that existed then, and to some extent, still

exist. The story seems to be true to life, and not the least bit


The reader is wrapped up in the life of Jurgis Rudkus. Every

time he seems to be on top of things, he is knocked off by some

unseen force. The book is very difficult to put down because the

fate of the main character always seems to be hanging on the


This book is an indispensable insight into the history of the

era. However, the socialist propaganda at the end seems to be a

bit hard to accept. It is too large of a dose, and seems to

abandon Jurgis. This appears to be the only problem with the

book, and can be almost overlooked by the reader, if it is


Upton Sinclair wrote a very impressive work. It is

definitely worth the time to read it. It shows many facets of

life during the period. The storyteller has a very dynamic

person to narrarate. The hopes and dreams of a generation of

immigrants to the United States are presented in a very

thought-provoking manner.