Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 17 January 2004

Books that inspired me

The Jungle, By Upton Sinclair

US PRESIDENT Theodore Roosevelt, it is said, choked on his breakfast and turned vegetarian when reading an advance copy of Upton Sinclair's expose of the meatpacking industry. The Jungle's graphic account of the presence of chemicals, diseased meat and rodent excrement in sausages is enough to turn anybody's stomach!

Alistair Tice

Appearing at a time when the practices of the "Beef Trust" were already under investigation, Sinclair's book, which quickly became an international bestseller, helped force through Congress the long-stalled Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act which became laws in June 1906.

Sinclair was one of the school of journalists and authors known as "muckrakers" who developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, exposing corporate and political wrongdoing in American society. He was introduced to socialism in 1902 and wrote The Jungle following the defeat of the 1904 Chicago stockyards strike.

The novel is based around the Lithuanian immigrant Rudkus family who come to America yearning a better life but instead find the wage slavery and misery of the mill, factory, sweatshop and slum.

In particular, Sinclair shows the brutal working conditions in Packingtown - of physical danger, insecurity, fear, exploitation, corruption and filth.

Sinclair's description of the slaughterhouse makes you, the reader, feel as though you can smell the warm, sweet, sickly stench rising from the blood and guts you are standing in! And the suffocating stink of the fertilizer plant makes your guts wretch as you are reading about it.

It is this 'jungle', these inhuman working conditions, that break the spirit of the novel's central character Jurgis (pronounced Yoorghis). He arrives in America as a strong, hopeful young man, marries his true love Ona in the first chapter, and optimistic to build a better life for his family.

He overcomes each adversity by working harder and determining that he will not be beaten. But within a few years he loses his job, his home, his wife (who dies unattended in childbirth), his son (who also dies), his freedom (he is jailed for beating up his wife's foreman who had raped her) and finally his hope (turning to drink, and abandons what's left of his family)!

You're reading the book thinking things can't get any worse, then they do! But as this tragic story unfolds, the capitalist system of the "Beef Trust" and corrupt politicians is laid bare.

Sinclair doesn't ram the political conclusions down your throat- indeed Jurgis, whilst seeing the injustice of it all, still gets trodden further and further down. With his spirit broken, he survives only by sinking into graft and corruption, and then works as a scab foreman during the stockyards strike.

Sinclair started writing The Jungle as a serialisation for the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason but he didn't know how to finish the story. He was writing the novel to propagandise for socialism but had, in damning capitalism, taken Jurgis so low, 'lumpenised' him, that such a conclusion could not flow from his demoralised, broken state. So the ending is contrived and socialism has to be brought in from outside.

Jurgis, taking shelter in a meeting hall, finds himself at a socialist election rally and becomes aware of the speaker who appears to be directly addressing him. Through the orator's evangelical speech, Sinclair expounds his case for socialism. As he admitted later: "I went crazy at the end of the book and tried to put in everything I knew about the socialist movement."

Jurgis is converted, a bit like a religious conversion, reflecting Sinclair's recent discovery of socialism and the strong Christian influence in the American socialist movement at that time. Even so, it is powerful, passionate and persuasive, and provides an optimistic rallying call of: "Chicago will be ours!"

Sinclair remained active in the socialist movement for over 20 years but in 1933 he registered as a Democrat, and leading the 'End Poverty in California' (Epic) coalition, won the primary and then narrowly lost the election for state governor. He continued to write well into his eighties winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

The conditions Sinclair raged against have been spread by capitalist industrialisation to sweatshops around the world. Workers still lose their jobs, their homes and their families. Food is still adulterated (see the articles below and left). The current US president may have choked on a pretzel, but we still need socialism.


Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 17 January 2004:

Stop Top-Up Fees

Top-Up Fees - Your Questions Answered

Top-Up Fees - The Beginning Of The End For Blair?

"Don't let money mean more than minds."

Stop top-up fees Action Day

Socialist Party features

Asylum Seekers Fast For Their Rights

High Fat, High Sugar And High Profit

The Jungle, By Upton Sinclair

Sharon Pushes For Annexation

Haiti: Mass Protests Against Autocratic Rule

Respect Unity Coalition - what we think

Socialist Party workplace news

Fight Low Pay

CWU Broad Left Affiliates To ISR

Fight For New Workers Party


Home   |   The Socialist 17 January 2004   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:

Upton Sinclair:

triangleLaying the foundation stones of the workers' movement


triangleCardiff Central Socialist Party: Socialism or anarchism?

triangleCapitalism oppresses women - fight for socialism!

triangleLambeth & Southwest London Socialist Party: Fighting sexism, fighting for socialism

triangleCoventry Socialist Party: Celebrate International Women's Day


triangleBirmingham Central Socialist Party: France in May 1968

triangleBirmingham Central Socialist Party: Japan - Stagnation and Military Tensions

triangleSalford Socialist Party: The history of the Labour movement in Ireland

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Refugee Rights campaigners on the 17.3.18 anti-racism demo - pics


Socialist Party

Socialist Party congress 2018



Strike continues: set dates for next national action


Socialist Party

Members dig deep into their pockets to support the party


North West

Campaigners continue to demand Chorley A&E is fully reopened



Swansea Labour council votes for cuts



Derby public meeting: Women's Lives Matter



Seeing-off the bigoted, billionaire toff!



Continuing the fighting tradition of working class women



Workplace news in brief



Leicester: Blairites block Labour Party democracy



Leaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise



We feel that we will win - a striker speaks



Woolwich ferry workers win automation campaign



UCU strike: bosses on the run

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018