The Jungle

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The Jungle is a 1906 novel written by author and journalist Upton Sinclair. Sinclair wrote the novel to highlight the plight of the working class and to show the corruption of the American meatpacking industry during the early-20th century. The novel depicts in harsh tones poverty, absence of social programs, unpleasant living and working conditions, and hopelessness prevalent among the working class, which is contrasted with the deeply-rooted corruption on the part of those in power. Sinclair's observations of the state of turn-of-the-century labor were placed front and center for the American public to see, suggesting that something needed to be changed to get rid of American "wage slavery".[1] The novel was first published in serial form in 1905 in the socialist magazine "Appeal to Reason". It was based on undercover work done in 1904: Sinclair spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards at the behest of the magazine's publishers.[2] He then started looking for a publisher who would be willing to print it in book form. After five rejections by publishers who found it too shocking for publication, he funded the first printing himself.[2] It was published by Doubleday, Page & Company on February 28, 1906, became an immediate bestseller[1] and has been in print ever since.

Contents

Plot summary

The novel opens with a dramatic description of a Lithuanian wedding feast hosted by the Liermans, which introduces the reader to all of the major characters and some of the secondary characters: Jurgis Rudkus (originally "Rudkos"[3]), his bride Ona, their extended family and their friends. Nearly every person who has passed by the building has been invited to attend the feast, as was the custom from the old country. The musicians play, the guests dance, food and drink flow freely, but an undercurrent of terror foreshadows what is to come, their generous hospitality has cost them much, but the traditional donations expected of the guests are few in number and small in size. Lured away from Lithuania by promises of work, the Rudkus family has arrived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois at the end of the 19th century, only to find that their dreams of a decent life are not likely to be realized. Jurgis has brought his father Antanas, his fiancée Ona, her stepmother Teta Elzbieta and Teta Elzbieta's six children. Teta Elzbieta's brother Jonas and Ona's cousin Marja Berczynskas come along.

From the beginning, they have to make compromises and concessions to survive. They quickly make a series of bad decisions that causes them to go deep into debt and fall prey to con men. The most devastating decision comes when, in hopes of owning their own home, the family falls victim to a predatory lending scheme that exhausts all their remaining savings on the down-payment for a substandard slum house that (by design) they cannot possibly afford. The family is evicted and their money taken, leaving them truly impoverished.

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