“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair
By Richard E. Noble
It was only recently that I discovered this book.
Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland - I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Upton Sinclair was born into poverty - my roots were in poverty. Upton Sinclair was interested in the working class people of America - my interest were with the working class people of America. This book is about the meat packing industry in Chicago - I was trained as a butcher and worked as a meat packer in Massachusetts. My first attempt at my own business was a small butcher shop in my hometown.
The Jungle is a story about poor Polish immigrants who come to America to participate in the “American Dream”. I am a descendent of Polish immigrants (and Irish/English immigrants) who came to this country in that very time period for those exact reasons. Upton Sinclair was a Socialists - I have been studying the American Labor movement and the rise of Socialism in this country. In this book Upton Sinclair’s main character runs off and becomes a Hobo. I feel that I ran off and lived a Hobo life. Upton Sinclair was a writer who attempted to change his society and the world through the written word - I am of the same type; though my attempts have thus far been more of a fantasy and fiction rather than a reality; and unfortunately at this stage of my life I really do not believe that the world can be changed either by words or by deeds. I still believe that one can have an influence though; so I’m not a complete pessimist ... So you can see, I had a lot to attract me to reading this book.
I enjoyed this book. What I thought was extremely interesting was what this book accomplished socially or politically. It was due to the outrageous exposures in this book that “pure food laws” were passed in this country. But what is even more interesting an astonishing - as Upton himself has pointed out - this book with all of its outrageous treatment of the working man - got no laws passed for the betterment of the treatment of “human beings” - which, of course, was Mr. Sinclair’s main goal.
As a result of this book food was processed in a healthier manner for the protection of those who could afford to buy it. Yet nothing was done to promote the humane treatment of either the cows or the people involved in this horridly exposed industry.
This is exactly what feeds my skepticism. It does seem to me that no matter what deeds or actions have been performed for whatever cause - the eventual results are negligible. The world today has advanced somewhat technologically we will all agree; but, all in all, human civilization is about the same as it has always been.
If someone were to set up a graph and make a measurement of all the factors indicating primitive and advanced social existence - health care, education, disease, poverty etc., I have absolutely no doubt that such a graph would show virtually a straight line extending across all of human existence. No doubt some would be healthier, and some would be better educated but all things considered properly and fairly I would doubt that we would find that civilization has improved percentage-wise over the ages to any astounding or even modest degree.
All of which leads to a rather depressing conclusion.
I often think, for example, should I spend my time investigating war, its causes and how it might be prevented in the future; or would my efforts be better spent in discovering the most perfect technique for pickling an egg?
If I spent my time on the pickled egg, one day mankind may have a better tasting pickled egg. On the other hand, if I spend my time on war I get the Geneva Convention, the United Nations, Hiroshima, and the strike first – preemptive - preventative initiative.