The Misconceptions of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair had always insisted that The Jungle was misread but did he ever think it could have been miswritten? The style of writing is not effective when addressing issues in a capitalistic society but proves to be very effective when exposing the secrets of the meatpacking industry. The novel is not remembered for being a classic work in literature but rather an important book in history in that it changed the way America looked at food in the early part of the century.
Sinclair loses his argument for Socialism at around the time when the characters in the book lose their humanity. The multitude of unfortunate situations and events makes the story more and more unrealistic and the reader loses a sense of compassion for the characters. Now, instead of being characters, they become objects in which the most you can do is pity them. When Jurgis comes home from jail to find his barely eighteen year-old wife dying, the third person omniscient narration guides the reader through the mind of Jurgis: “She was dead! She was dead! He would never see her again, never hear her again! An icy horror of loneliness seized him.” (190) After Ona’s death, one could not anticipate anything more to go wrong, but it does. In just a short time later, Jurgis’ son Antanas drowned in the street.
It is extremely obvious that Sinclair is a Socialist himself. Anything and everything that could go wrong in the first three quarters of the book does, and once Jurgis is introduced to Socialism, everything ironically enough, goes right. After the death of little Antanas, Jurgis goes through an emotional upheaval. “There should be no more tears and no more tenderness; he had had enough of them-- they sold him into slavery!” (212) This is the beginning of Jurgis’ socialist way of thinking and it seems ideal for him, but at the same time, it seems like a last resort for someone so unfortunate that they are actually removed from a human society. Not many know how to feel for Jurgis at this point. This is more than most can handle. In novels where a main character dies, a great deal of empathy is felt but when another dies and yet another, it just seems like there isn’t enough emotion left to give. The question is not if Jurgis’ emotions are justified but if his emotions are humanly attainable. That is the question that destroys Sinclair’s Socialist argument.
As Sinclair’s standpoint for Socialism proves not to be as convincing as what was hoped, the style of writing proves to be successful in exposing the truth of the meatpacking industry. A combination of the reporter-style third person narrative and the abundance of factual information dug up by Sinclair gives the book the shocking reputation that it has earned. “To this part of the yard [the fertilizer room] came all the ‘tankage’ and the waste products of all sorts; her they dried out the bones,--and in suffocating cellars where the daylight never came you might see men and women and children bending over whirling machines and sawing bits of bone into all sorts of shapes, breathing their lungs full of the fine dust, and doomed to die, every one of them, within a certain definite time.” (127)
The publication of The Jungle had a great influence on the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and has had a significant impact on how we view public health. “The first public health activities in the United States began in the early nineteenth century in the large cities and focused on sanitation.” (Raffel 231) If unsafe and unsanitary working conditions were not exposed in the depth that they were, it may have been ten years before public health was even an issue in American society. Sinclair had a serious impact on the history of this country.
Sinclair has said “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” His Socialist standpoint was not conveyed as much as the secret horrors of the food industry. As unintentional as that was, it is still very interesting to know. With that in mind, The Jungle is an