The Jungle

November 7, 2010

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle made such a social impact because it conveys the disturbing realities of chasing the American Dream and falling short.  Instead of attaining success immigrants became subject to harsh living and labor conditions for little income.  During the early 1900’s the population of immigrants in America drastically increased but many lived in slums or tenement houses which were poor conditioned, overcrowded apartment houses in poor sections of large cities.

“He could not hear it often enough; he could not ask with enough variations. Yes, they had bought the house, they had really bought it. It belonged to them, they had only to pay the money and it would be all right. Then Jurgis covered his face with his hands, for there were tears in his eyes, and he felt like a fool. But he had had such a horrible fright; strong man as he was, it left him almost too weak to stand up.” (4.28)

This may not be one of the most gruesome scenes of the story yet it strikes me for the extent of suffering it brings upon Jurgis.  Jurgis looks to enter the workforce with confidence and believes he has the will and strength to make a good living.  He represents the working class immigrant. However he is swindled on the deal for his house (large taxes), injures his ankle with no workers compensation, and has a child.  Although he looks to make social advancements Jurgis is scarred by each of these events.  When he becomes “too weak to stand up” the tolls of an unjust society had already breached his determination.

The American Dream had been shattered as Jurgis’ vision of success diminishes. Jurgis begins to view the unfair reality of a corrupt society and his idealistic views become tarnished as he faces a climactic transition to crime.  It is so devastating to see a hard working individual such as Jurgis turn to the opposite direction of his earlier self when he initially said “I will work harder.”

On another note….Although Sinclair’s purpose was to protect society from exploitation his work influenced in creating the Food and Drugs Act in 1906.  Anyone interested should view the movie Supersize Me (2004). Even though technology in our society has made so much advancements we are still susceptible to health risks as the movie specifically focuses on fast food.  Even with industrial advancements with technology and the ability to produce there are still many ways our population can be impacted by industrial pollution.

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