In Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, published in 1906, a sense of injustice towards the working class and need for socialism is present. Sinclair intended to illustrate the vast majority of immigrants in Chicago at the turn of the century; providing details and examples of abuses in the meatpacking industry merely as a means of demonstrating their troubles. After the publication of The Jungle, Sinclair stated, “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. He used those words to describe the reaction of his novel. Once the public had been exposed to this underlying secret within the meat packing industry, they rallied for immediate government intervention, which eventually led to the 1906 Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. It also, however, led to a report issued the same year by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Husbandry that refuted the worst of Sinclair’s allegations.
The public’s perception at this time was that the meatpacking industry feared these Acts. What was unrecognized, however, was the fact that meatpackers knew they were viewed with contempt, and facing substantial losses, the industry actually supported the Acts. They just did not want to be the ones to pay for the implementation. These Acts allayed most fears, and ironically, actually favored big business, which was the opposite of Sinclair’s intention.
Sinclair knew that when writing this piece, a piece that would change America forever, he needed to present it and write it in such a way that it would quickly grab hold of the reader’s attention. Essentially, he created a new type of novel that America had yet to be expose to; naturalism. Naturalism, as a type of literature, attempts to apply scientific principles and detachment when studying humans. In true naturalistic novels, there are two key themes that dominate this genre of writing: survival and futile attempts to practice free will.
These themes are both present in The Jungle. However, The Jungle is not a true naturalistic novel; there is just enough naturalism, though, to get Sinclair’s purpose and thoughts across. When Sinclair was originally asked to write a piece for the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason in 1905, it was noted that his piece would be mainly based on the socialistic views that many Americans, especially those in Chicago’s meatpacking industry, thought needed to happen.
It isn’t until the end of The Jungle that the views begin to appear in the novel. Sinclair knew that if he completely wrote with the socialistic views in mind that his book wouldn’t have made as big of an impact, but because Jurgis, the protagonist of The Jungle, doesn’t begin to side with Socialism till the end of the book, it is now easier for the reader’s to understand how much better socialism would be to them.
Even a century after Sinclair’s book was published, it is still as important today as it was back then. If Sinclair hadn’t taken on the assignment to write this piece for the newspaper, who knows what stance America would be in today. Sinclair exposed factories and big business for the monster’s they were and America is better for it. He started a revolution that would change the course of history forever, and all he wanted was to expose the truth of what was going on behind closed doors.