The Jungle | Study Guide

Upton Sinclair

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The Jungle | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Published in 1906, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle captures a time of great economic inequality, massive immigration, and lack of labor regulation in the United States. Attempting to shed light on the dark side of the American Dream, the novel tells the story of Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus as he tries to build a better life for his family.

Sinclair's wildly popular novel was also extremely controversial due to its socialist and reformist elements. Sinclair uses graphic descriptions of the conditions of the meatpacking factories in Chicago to call for regulations to protect the rights of the workers and for an end to grossly unsanitary practices. The Jungle had a profound effect on the country both politically and socially, leading to stricter regulations in the food industry to protect health.

1. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt called Sinclair a "crackpot" after reading The Jungle.

After famously labeling Sinclair a "muckraker" (investigative journalist) for causing trouble through his writing, President Roosevelt also stated, "Tell Sinclair to go home and let me run the country for a while." Though Roosevelt would subsequently launch an investigation into the meatpacking industry, he was not happy with Sinclair's socialist message.

2. Winston Churchill praised Sinclair's novel.

Decades before becoming prime minister of the United Kingdom, Churchill wrote several essays about The Jungle while he was serving in the House of Commons. Churchill wrote that The Jungle "pierces the thickest skull and most leathery heart."

3. The Jungle led to the creation of what would become the Food and Drug Administration.

In 1906 the Bureau of Chemistry was charged with administering the Food and Drugs Act, which was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt after great public outcry about the unsanitary practices described in The Jungle. In 1930 the Bureau of Chemistry was renamed the Food and Drug Administration.

4. An investigation into one of Sinclair's most shocking claims was actually a gross exaggeration.

During the Neill-Reynolds investigation of the meatpacking industry that led to the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, and subsequent hearings in court, it was concluded that there had only been one documented case of a worker falling to his death into one of the meat cooking vats, as Sinclair so disturbingly describes in his novel. The investigation concluded Sinclair's scene was a gross exaggeration.

5. Sinclair's novel was burned by Nazis in 1933.

The Jungle was banned by fascists and communists alike because of its socialist undertones. On May 10, 1933, German students and troopers gathered in Berlin to burn more than 25,000 books thought to have "unGerman" ideas. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said to them, "[Y]ou do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past." Conversely, it was banned in East Germany beginning in 1956, as it was thought to be harmful to the goals of communism.

6. Sinclair was forced to censor the original edition.

See Sharp Press published an edition in 2003 that, according to some literary scholars, was much truer to Sinclair's intentions. Some claim that Sinclair had to censor the original commercial edition heavily due to its anticapitalist messages, while others argue that the alterations the author made were simply to give the book greater appeal to the public.

7. A pro-labor film version of The Jungle sparked protests.

The adaptation, a silent black-and-white film, was made in 1914. It was one of many films produced in the 1910s and 1920s that showed laborers as heroes and created protests against working conditions in plants, mills, and mines. The 1914 film has since been lost.

8. A publisher rejected the "gloom and horror" of Sinclair's novel quite harshly.

Before publishing The Jungle with Doubleday, Sinclair received a brutal rejection from MacMillan, a larger trade publisher. Appalled by the socialist elements of the novel, a consultant for Macmillan wrote:

I advise without hesitation and unreservedly against the publication of this book which is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels that what is at the bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire to help the poor as hatred of the rich.

9. Sinclair was disappointed in the public's reaction to the book.

The author was disappointed that his book only led to a greater awareness of the need for food safety regulations in the meatpacking industry—and not to an awakening regarding workers' rights. Sinclair noted:

I realized with bitterness I had been made a 'celebrity,' not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef.

10. Jack London was a huge fan of The Jungle.

The author, famous for novels like The Call of the Wild, was also a notable American socialist. He spoke in support of Sinclair's novel:

Here it is at last! The book we have been waiting for these many years! The Uncle Tom's Cabin [anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe] of wage slavery.

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