The Jungle and Figurative Language

Throughout history, there have been books that shocked the world and turned many ideals upside down. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, was one of these cases. It sent a shiver down typical Americans’ spines when the author described the horrendous working and living conditions of the factory workers of that time. The story follows a group of twelve, immigrating from Lithuania, and their experiences in Industrial Revolution era Chicago with a primary focus on Jurgis. The book rather quickly reveals the falsehood of the promises the United States gave to all who crossed Lady Liberty, saying one can start from the bottom, then make millions through hard work. How the country once called the greatest in the world, shattered thousands, perhaps millions, of souls. Though the group starts off as happy to be in a big city where jobs were supposedly plentiful; by the end of the book, the majority of the group is dead, with the remaining few broke, basically on the streets. Their spirit is shattered and left to rot like so many before them. While the book did not bring much change to the conditions workers labored in til several decades after it was published, but it still had an impact on Americans through the language of the book. Figurative language was used extensively throughout the book and played a big role in conjuring up images of the conditions the characters were in. In the book The Jungle, the author, Upton Sinclair, uses figurative language to convey his image of atrocious conditions, both weather wise and the way workers were treated.

With the use of the figurative language technique personification, Sinclair is able to describe just how terrible the weather conditions were for workers. The cold of winter was the main type of weather Sinclair personified, describing how the family, “would have some frightful experiences with the cold” (Chapter 7), foreshadowing as well that the cold was not done tormenting the family. A way the author makes the cold seem malevolent is making it sound like a creeping, haunting figure. This can be seen in Chapter 7 when Sinclair describes the cold as something the family, “could feel…as it crept in through the cracks, reaching out from them with its icy, death-dealing fingers”. The character’s reactions to the cold are also a driving way of making the weather seem like a monster. Stanislovas, one of the character’s, Teta Elzbieta, sons, feared the cold greatly. Sinclair describes how the young boy, “conceived a terror of the cold that was almost a mania” (Chapter 7). By personifying the cold, the reader begins to think of the weather as an autonomous being that only wishes to do bad to those around it and to stop the characters from getting to work, their only source of income. Sinclair also uses several forms of figurative language to describe the work environment the characters are in. Imagery is used to encompass the book, making the environment the character’s suffer in like a giant slaughterhouse. Chapter 3 describes the process of how hogs in the local slaughterhouse are made into pork, “…the stream of animal was continuous; it was quite uncanny to watch them, pressing on to their fate, all unsuspicious a very river of death…the hogs went up (the chutes) by the power of their own legs, and then their weight carried them back through all the processes necessary to make them into pork”. This can be greatly alluded to the cycle many workers went through in this era. Many come to big cities to find better paying work, not knowing the consequences ahead of them. The hogs going up the chute with their own power can be compared to people coming to the factories in the cities of their own freewill, again, not knowing that they will be chewed up and spit out, only to have people similar to them take their place, creating an endless cycle. The way the slaughterhouse uses every single part of a hog, “no tiniest particle of organic matter was wasted” (Chapter 3) also alludes to how the workforce uses every part of the worker, not leaving any spot of the worker untouched or unused. By comparing the rather questionable techniques the slaughterhouse in the book uses to the conditions people are treated in. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair uses quite a bit figurative language to get his point across that workers all over the United States suffered from the weather conditions and how the workers were treated. Sinclair personifies the cold to make it seem like a monster that chased the characters down, showing no mercy to anyone. He also greatly uses allusion to make the way workers are treated seem like the process the slaughterhouse uses on its hogs. With the use of figurative language, the reader can get some incline of the horrific conditions work in. The book continues to send shivers down readers’ spines despite it being over a hundred years old, reminding us of the sins our country committed to those who only wished for a better life.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair uses quite a bit figurative language to get his point across that workers all over the United States suffered from the weather conditions and how the workers were treated. Sinclair personifies the cold to make it seem like a monster that chased the characters down, showing no mercy to anyone. He also greatly uses allusion to make the way workers are treated seem like the process the slaughterhouse uses on its hogs. With the use of figurative language, the reader can get some incline of the horrific conditions work in. The book continues to send shivers down readers’ spines despite it being over a hundred years old, reminding us of the sins our country committed to those who only wished for a better life.

The (Literal) Jungle: Symbolism and Meaning in Sinclair’s Narrative

Charles Darwin put forward the idea that nature showed prevalent consistency in a pattern of “survival of the fittest.” In the classic realist novel The Jungle, this concept is also present throughout the entirety of the story. The narrative of a man named Jurgis avidly attempting to make a living for himself in America, this novel plays upon the very idea of survival of the fittest, and it also emphasizes the fact that society, much like nature itself, functions very similar to a literal jungle as opposed to the common belief that society is very “civilized.” Through symbolism, characterization, setting, diction, and specific scenes in the novel The Jungle, Upton Sinclair effectively portrays the world and society as a whole as functioning much like an actual jungle.

Numerous symbols are used in Sinclair’s novel The Jungle. To begin, an emphasis on actual animals begins on page 39, where it is being explained, regarding industry, how “They brought in ten thousand head of cattle every day, and as many hogs, and half as many sheep. . .” Animals are then prevalent throughout the rest of the novel, and human beings are reflected as being treated similar to these animals later on in the story. The first of these places is early on in the story on page 41 where Jurgis is witnessing the slaughtering of the hogs. “Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some were young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire. . .” This passage sets up the rest of the book for the comparison of humans and animals. The different kinds of hogs are representative of the many different kinds of humans there are. Some people are tall, some are short; some are black, some are white; some are old, some are young. Each human has an individuality of his or her own as well that should be valued and recognized. The author presents this passage to effectively and early on set up the idea that humans are not so different from animals at all and to later make the point that it is horribly wrong to treat humans as if they were disposable animals.

Sinclair furthers this comparison of humans to animals throughout the rest of the novel by showing how people are often times treated like animals as well. Page 81 reads “The new hands were here by the thousands. All day long the gates of the packing-houses were besieged by starving and penniless men; they came, literally, by the thousands every single morning, fighting with each other for a chance for life . . . The Durham’s bosses picked out twenty of the biggest. . .” At this point in the story, the author is describing how, just like animals or cattle, people would come to these packing-houses in search of a means of work, and they would fight with one another much like animals do in order to get what they wanted. However, much like the cattle that are emphasized so often in this novel, only the biggest and strongest are chosen to have the chance to make a living, which is reflective of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” which is typically thought of as something that really only goes on in nature or the jungle. Furthermore, page 154 offers the knowledge that Jurgis has been “flung aside, like a bit of trash, the carcass of some animal” showing how society has weakened him and thrown him out as if he were rotten meat, and Sinclair uses the word “cowed” on page 55 as precise diction to reflect how Jurgis and his family have been intimidated by the way society is run as well as yet again remind the reader of the animal itself. Nearer to the end of the story, Sinclair ends his subtle comparisons of humans and animals, and on page 256 comes right out and exclaims the idea to the reader: “You went out of here like cattle, and like cattle you’ll come back!” This suddenly makes it all very plain to the reader that humans are often treated as if they are animals and behave as such as well. Also, since animals are dependent upon certain things as humans are, they will return to where ever it is that will provide them with some hope of a means of survival. This dependence reflects the idea of “survival of the fittest” because the people who may not be so “fit” return to something that is in order to find a way to survive. This same device is used on page 257 where it is stated that “they were herded into the packing-plants like sheep,” and on page 263 it says, “He was crippled – he was as literally crippled as any wild animal which has lost its claw, or had been torn out of its shell.” In these comparisons, the reader is reminded that society many times functions like the brutal world of the jungle, and that humans sometimes have so few options that to be treated as if one were an animal might be the difference between life and death. However, one’s attempts to survive in this “urban jungle” are often times futile and a person is chewed up and spit back out only to find that they were merely the prey of another animal.

Another major symbol in the novel The Jungle is the prevalence of the “machine.” The industrial machine in corporate America is presented on page 46. At this point in the story, Jurgis is feeling awestruck in the idea that he is “part of it all” and has become a cog in this enormous monster of an industry. Though machines are very separate from jungles, they can still in fact represent the idea that society functions as a jungle. Jurgis is awestruck that he is part of a machine, a “cog” in the industry, but he doesn’t realize that cogs and gears can be easily replaced in a machine, so in order to maintain his place in this machine, he must work against everyone else in order to survive. In a jungle, it is more or less every creature for his or herself, a competition for survival, and this idea of a machine with removable and replaceable parts creates this competition for human beings to look out for themselves so that they do not get removed from this machine and can survive. However, the bosses at theses packing-plants are aware that the “cogs” in this machine are disposable and replaceable, so they work the laborers to the bone until they can’t work anymore. These laborers are indeed like the cogs in the machine because when they are worked hard enough and treated poorly and abused, they will wear out and will need to be replaced. This keeps the competition for survival going, something that is very abundant in the jungle.

Sinclair establishes this theme of society functioning similar to a jungle through specific characterization of certain individuals in the story. Jurgis is first off described as someone rather strong and well prepared for anything on page 14, and on page 37 it is stated that “He had gone to Brown’s and stood there not more than half an hour before one of the bosses noticed his form towering above the rest.” When this idea is thought of in terms of animals and how Jurgis compares to everyone else (the other “animals”) in this novel, this description implies that Jurgis is one of the “fit” animals in the jungle who will be able to survive because of his large figure and strength. Then, on page 147, Jurgis is compared to a tiger, a creature that is often considered dominant, powerful, and fierce in the world of nature. It states, “He fought like a tiger, writhing and twisting, half flinging them off, and starting toward his unconscious enemy.” At this particular point in the story, both the author’s depiction of a scene and Jurgis’ character reflect the idea that society functions like a jungle. Jurgis has become a tiger, and having been recently upset by something somebody has done, has attacked that person just as an animal might attack another if they are angered. Along with this, the author plays upon the idea that it is the packing-houses and the bosses that work there that are actually the predators in this novel who prey on the weaker animals such as the laborers and the poverty stricken immigrants, and deceit appears to be their tactic of choice.

Lastly, the setting itself that Sinclair has presented seems to represent that of an “urban jungle.” Page 17 sets a rather chaotic mood during the celebration where there is music, dancing, “thieve-like” activity of some of the guests, and general commotion that occurs. This reflects how a jungle is always full of activity – chaos – and is never truly peaceful. Creatures are always moving about, birds are always singing, thieve-like animals are waiting to pounce on their prey or rob a meal (or even a life) from another animal, and there is a feel of constant life and subtle chaos. Later on, on page 32 and 33, the family is approaching the city and the reader is told how the landscape changes drastically. “It grew darker all the time” and there were “half a dozen chimneys, tall as the tallest of buildings, touching the very sky – and leaping from them half a dozen columns of smoke, thick, oily, and black as night.” The jungle is a very dark place, and the buildings seem to mirror the towering trees in a jungle that surround everything, touching the very sky. Trees are the most prevalent thing in a jungle and are the things that provide the boundaries for the jungle, much like how the imposing building that are described by the author set the boundaries for this “urban jungle” and are a distinct characteristic of it as well. Though it is not a perfect description of a literal jungle, Sinclair has effectively implanted into the setting of the story the daunting and mysterious structure of a thick and dark “urban” jungle that is full of activity and nearly isolated from the outside world. As well as the city itself being compared to a jungle, the meat packing-plants are described somewhat like a jungle as well. Pages 98 and 99 deftly describe the diseases that exist inside the packing-plants that the workers all must try to avoid and be wary of, which could be similar to all of the dangerous things in a jungle that an animal would have to cautious and wary of as well.

In a jungle, there are many types of predators and poisonous things that one must look out for, so this detail becomes important in setting the feeling that a person working in a packing-plant must be just as wary of all the things that could harm him or her as if he or she were in an actual jungle. Page 81 also states that the air in the packing-houses was “full of steam, from the hot water and the hot blood, so that you could not see five feet before you. . .” Jungles are often times described as being “steamy,” and Sinclair’s incorporation of this characteristic of the packing-houses suggests the similarity between the steamy jungle and the packing-plants. This description is one that gives a subtle feel of “mystery” and danger in the packing-plant which is comparable to the mystery and danger that exists in a real jungle as well as the physical feel of the hot steam that would be present in one. Also on page 254, it is told that the workers at the packing-houses were “half fainting for the tropical heat. . . ” Sinclair portrays yet again that the setting in the packing-houses is similar to a jungle due to the seemingly “tropical” climate that exists there. It was not simply “hot” in the packing-houses, it was a “tropical heat” which is a very specific word choice that contributes to the feeling that these houses and, more specifically, the society that runs these houses, literally feels as well as functions more like a jungle. The author has created the feeling that these “jungle” houses are the territory and domain of the predator bosses (much like how animals sometimes have a specific territory) who prey on the laborers to make a living, reflecting on society itself because it is society, more specifically industrial America, that has constructed these jungles in which the cunning and sly “predators” lure in their “prey.”

Though modern civilization is not particularly present in a jungle, Sinclair has effectively presented the idea that society functions as if it were a jungle itself. Sinclair shows his readers how certain characteristics are similar to those of animals when it comes to survival and that people are often times treated like animals in society, especially in corporate America where it seems as if people with authoritative power are predators who deceive the weak and prey on laborers for a profit. Sinclair grasps the reader with his outstanding comparisons of humans to animals in the idea that each on is unique and has a will of its own and uses these comparisons to construct the theme that society functions more like a jungle than most people think it does. By even simply titling his novel The Jungle, the author effectively manages to remind the reader that society, especially corporate society in the industrial parts of America, is corrupt and has many characteristics of an actual jungle, and Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” is prevalent in urban society as well as the wild.

Preying on the Immigrant Experience: Sinclair’s The Jungle

During the industrial revolution in America, many immigrant families migrated from countries in Europe and Asia in hope of finding a better life in the land of the free. However, when they arrived by the boatload, they were met with poor working conditions and wages that were nearly impossible to live off of. The immigrants suddenly found themselves working, slaving away with little or no choice on when they would be forced to work because they needed the money so desperately to feed their starving families. This sad state of affairs is reflected by the main characters in Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle. Jurgis and his family found themselves entrapped in the corruption of American society, unwilling to believe that America was anything but the land they had given up their old lives for.

Society taking advantage of the naive immigrants began very shortly once Jurgis’s family began the migration to America. Money was a very important factor in the immigration of many foreign families, for without it they would have an almost impossible time settling into their new home. However, various con artists wait patiently to prey on the innocent immigrants as they make their landing in America. “There was an agent who helped them, but he got them into a trap with some officials, and cost them a good deal of their precious money” (Sinclair 24). Most immigrants knew nothing about the country, so “it was easy for a man in a blue uniform to lead them away, and to take them to a hotel and keep them there, and make them pay enormous charges to get away” (24). The confused Lithuanians knew no better than to follow when they were told to, thus allowing predators to take advantage of the foreigners for their own personal gain, disregarding the strong social values the families share. The law called for essential information to be displayed in America, but nowhere does it say that it should be in Lithuanian or any other language. This allows for the corrupt American society to exploit the ignorance of the immigrants.

Many of the families who immigrated to America in the early 1900’s were uncultured to American society and because of this, they were easily tricked. When Jurgis and his family look for a house to buy in America, they are easily swindled by smooth-talking realtors. The family notices an ad in the paper for what seems to be the perfect house they need for just what they could afford. At just twelve dollars a month and three hundred down, the family pounces on an opportunity to call Packingtown their home. The ad “even quoted ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ and made bold to translate it into Polish” (47). This parallels with Jurgis’s observation in the beginning of the book, where no one bothered to translate the rate card outside the hotels into any other language. The real estate companies took the time to translate the home add into Polish in order to catch the eye of and take advantage of the naive immigrants. Realtors claimed that the house was brand new, although it had been simply repainted after the previous tenants had failed to pay their monthly fees. Blind to this fact, the presumably happy family moves into anew house, unknowing of what surprises were to come. After visiting a Lithuanian neighbor, they learn that the builders “used the very flimsiest and the cheapest material, they build the houses a dozen at a time, and they cared about nothing at all except the outside shine” (69). The realtors and house builders took advantage of the naivety of the immigrants to sell houses with the “idea that the people who bought them would not be able to pay for them” (69). Once the tenants failed to make a payment on the house, they would lose the house and all they had paid on it. This encounter with the fellow Lithuanian neighbor foreshadows the family’s inevitable fate. When Jurgis demands to know the hidden expenses on the house, he learns that they must pay between sixty and seventy additional dollars a year for insurance, water and taxes.

Families who immigrated to America during the period of industrial revolution were often taken advantage of in the workplace. Immigrants in the town of Packingtown, Chicago were exploited and dehumanized while working in the infamous packing plants. The desperate need for a job in Packingtown caused lines of hundreds of starved men to accumulate outside the doors of the plants. The owners of the packing plants knew how high demand a job was for immigrant families, so they treated their workers like they were less than human. The men were forced to work “with furious intensity, literally upon the run–at a pace with which there is nothing compared except a football game” (41). The extreme debt that the immigrants were forced into by the predators of Packingtown made it impossible for them to slow down while working, in fear that they might lose their job. The fear of losing their job was the driving factor for the immigrants to keep working at the packing plant. A loss of a job would mean that they would become a burden to the family, something no man at the time could bear the thought of. If the production line began to slow, then the plant would bring in workers who earned large wages and worked incredibly fast. Strategic positioning of these workers allowed for the speed of production to increase, although most workers were so exhausted that they were working as robots. The packing plants took advantage of the immigrants the hired, and treated them as though they were replaceable cogs in the great Packingtown machine.

In The Jungle, Jurgis and the other immigrants living in Packingtown were constantly taken advantage of by past immigrants who were higher up in society. Whether it was on the trip to America, during their first house purchase or in the workplace, the immigrants had to be on the constant lookout for scoundrels looking to swindle the families of their precious money. Immigrants were pushed to the breaking point, and finally had to decide whether to stick to their good morals and continue to be pushed around by the bullies within their ociety, or to lose sight of their identities and become one with the corruption of America.

Upton Sinclair’s Indictment of Wage Slavery in The Jungle

The lash which drives [the modern slave—the slave of the factory, the sweat shop] cannot be either be seen or heard . . . This slave is never hunted by bloodhounds; he is not beaten to pieces by picturesque villains, nor does he die in ecstasies of religious faith. His religion is but another snare of his oppressors, and the bitterest of his misfortunes; the hounds that hunt him are disease and accident, and the villain who murders him is merely the prevailing wages. In his evocative exposé detailing the evils of the Chicago meatpacking industry, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair launches a searing indictment of wage slavery. According to Sinclair, the Beef Trust ruthlessly exploited workers, subjecting them to a grueling fate worse than that experienced by chattel slaves. Compelled by sheer survival with no hope of earning profit, Industrial Age workers had no choice but to stand in line for months praying to be selected for work in one of the filthy, overcrowded factories that filled the Chicago stockyard district. Upon being chosen as one of the “lucky few” to secure a job, workers toiled under the most base labor conditions for wages that could barely support a single person, much less an entire family. Despite being stripped of any human rights and driven like slaves, workers could never rest assured that their job position or less-than-minimal wages were protected. Sinclair asserts that American capitalist industrialization promotes a legal form of slavery in which the working class is forced into intolerably inhumane labor conditions in order to merely subsist. He constructs his indictment of wage labor through his protagonist’s rude awakening of the cruel system, his frequent analogy of workers to animals and the packing district to a grand machine, as well as by providing a litany of the unfair labor practices that kept the trusts in business.The novel chronicles the story of a Lithuanian immigrant laborer called Jurgis, who has recently moved to the Chicago stockyards with high hopes for prosperity in the land of opportunity. Jurgis’ perspective on the relative prosperity quickly changes when guests at his wedding defy customary donation to the groom and bride because they cannot part with their hard-earned wages on which they depend for survival. He says, There are able-bodied men who work from early morning until late at night, in ice-cold cellars with a quarter of an inch of water on the floor . . . who cannot earn three hundred dollars in a year. There are little children here. . . who can hardly see the top of work benches. . .who do not make half of the three hundred dollars a year, and perhaps not even a third of it. . . Bit by bit these poor people have given up everything else, but to this [sum] they cling with all the power of their souls. Jurgis’ once optimistic outlook on life in America quickly changes to despair as he begins to understand the desperate condition of labor. He notes early on never to be a minute late to work as he will be “docked half a day’s pay,” and never to be more than a minute late or he will be “apt to find his brass check turned to the wall, which will send him out to join the hungry mob that waits every morning at the gates. . .” Sinclair makes it abundantly clear that workers have no rights or stable wages because employment opportunity is so limited, thus giving the tyrannical bosses free reign to mistreat and abuse their slave-like workers. The working class had to accept this fate in order to survive. Sinclair notes, Such were the cruel terms upon which their life was possible—that they might never have nor expect a single instant’s respite from worry, a single instant in which they were not haunted by the thoughts of money. . .This in truth was not living; it was scarcely even existing.. . . They were willing to work all the time and they could not do any more. When people did their best they ought to be able to keep alive. Ultimately, after being driven like slaves and treated like animals, workers lose their capacity to live and become automatons focused on simply surviving. In order to illustrate the miserable condition of labor in the stockyards, Sinclair often constructs parallels equating workers with animals. He addresses those who challenged the plight of workers and the cause of the unions claiming workers were trying to “restrict the productive capacity of the factories.” Sinclair responds in saying that no one really understood the message of the unions; the “editors of newspapers, and statesmen, and presidents of employers’ associations and universities” didn’t understand that “what the unions were trying to do was to put a stop to murder.” He goes on to explain, They were slaughtering men up there just as they were slaughtering cattle; they were grinding the bodies and souls of them, and turning them into dollars and cents.Sinclair saw the Packing district as a machine with the workers as expendable, changeable parts. He describes Jurgis watching the men work on the killing-floor, “marveling at their speed and power as if they had been wonderful machines;” Sinclair then notes, “it somehow never occurred to one to think of the flesh and blood side of it there,” the workers weren’t regarded as human. Perhaps this was the reason for the bosses’ unconscionable exploitation of them. The men were not rewarded for continued service to the industry no more than for diligent, hard work. Sinclair says, “the man who minded his own business and did his work—why they would ‘speed him up’ till they had worn him out, then they would simply throw him in the gutter.” Sinclair reiterates this point when he claims that winter served as a mechanism to filter out the weak; he says, “All the year round they had been serving as cogs in the great packing machine; and now was the time for the renovating of the machine.” This suggests Sinclair’s perspective that the capitalist industrial society that revolved around these large corporation trusts was predominately concerned with productivity and minorly, if at all, concerned with the plight of the workers whom they saw as dispensable parts of the production line. Sinclair’s most recognizable and shocking condemnation of wage slavery came in the form of a detailed catalogue of depraved labor practices interwoven throughout the narrative. He attacks child-labor when he claims “three-quarters of children under fifteen years of age are now engaged in earning their livings in this glorious land of freedom.” Next Sinclair vividly describes the plight of the elderly through a brutally descriptive narrative of an old man whose feet were nearly burned to the bone by residual acid on the floor of his workplace. Sinclair also spends a great deal of his novel describing the horrific working conditions of every factory including the unheated killing floors. He says, “On the killing-floor you might easily freeze . . . You were apt to be covered with blood, and it would freeze solid.” His graphic descriptions serve as the most powerful and convincing persuasive tool for prompting reformative action. Sinclair even recognized the articulacy of his detail when he said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach.” Because the labor system was so internally flawed that it functioned very much like slavery, working conditions were not monitored to ensure safety or protection of workers. Under the system of wage slavery production superseded workers’ wellbeing.Upton Sinclair’s indictment of wage slavery was enormously effective as can be gauged by the federal reform legislation it provoked. Following its publication in 1986, President Theodore Roosevelt initiated the Pure Food and Drug Act to rectify the ills depicted in The Jungle. Upton Sinclair’s success can be attributed to his brilliant combination of political discourse with perceptive narrative. Rather than plainly listing his grievances, Sinclair interjected them sporadically throughout a well-crafted, interesting and intriguing story that enhanced the public’s capacity for empathy because they were able to identify with the plight of the protagonist. In a powerful summation of immigrant workers’ tragic tale, Sinclair writes:They were beaten; they had lost the game; they were swept aside. It was not less tragic because it was so sordid, because that it had to do with wages, and grocery bills, and rents. They had dreamed of freedom . . . and now it was all gone—it would never be. Additionally, he complements his political harangue with an artistic element of cunningly crafted literary parallels that elicit sensory reaction on top of intellectual reaction. Finally, the most notable achievement of Sinclair’s brilliant novel was his extensively explicit descriptions of the horrifying working conditions facilitated by the wage slavery system. Sinclair’s novel is a permanent account of an era of indignity in American history when greed overpowered goodwill and violated the central tenets on which the country was founded. Works CitedSinclair, Upton. The Jungle: the Uncensored Original Edition. Tucson: See Sharp P, 2003 

“The Jungle: Fiction, History, or Both?”

The classification of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle is ambivalent as it contains elements characteristic of both fiction and historical writing. These elements, including imaginary events which define fiction or literature, and the real events or statistics that comprise history, make it difficult to define The Jungle, as they are tightly interwoven throughout the novel. However, with the aid of a theoretical model for analyzing narrative, fiction, and historical writing provided by writers such as Hayden White and E. M. Forester, the relationship between fiction and history in The Jungle becomes clearer. White argues that Sinclair’s novel is not purely historical because imaginary events appear throughout the novel and work to group the novel within the literary genre. Yet, according to White, all historical writing must have a visible moral basis, and because fictional events and elements of literary narrative provide a moral basis, the novel maintains this aspect. Forester’s work augments White’s theory by explaining how literary devices such as plot development create meaning in Sinclair’s novel.

White’s essay “On Narrative” gives a definition of what constitutes as a legitimate historical narrative, information that is applicable to The Jungle as it helps classify the novel’s aspects of literary and historical writing. One key point White argues is that, “the very distinction between real and imaginary events, basic to modern discussions of both history and fiction, presupposes a notion of reality in which “the true” is identified with “the real” only insofar as it can be shown to posses the character of narrativity” (6). In other words, he says the real events that comprise a historical account must take on the narrative forms common to imaginary events–those of fiction or literature–to have a coherent meaning or “truth.” Thus, a historical narrative must show a moral stance. He also explains that this is a difficult process because unlike imaginary events, which by nature take expression via narrative, there is an, “artificiality [in] the notion that real events could ‘speak themselves,'” (4) and provide moral meaning. Thus, he continues, the historian must fashion the real events into narrative forms and use literary devices, a process which has contradictory effects: coaxing real events into narrative gives them meaning or “truth,” which implies a moral stance; but the history loses objectivity due to this moral bias (17). Another stipulation of White’s theory is that “it is not enough that a historical account deal in real, rather than merely imaginary, events…[and] the events must be not only registered within the chronological framework of their original occurrence but narrated as well, that is to say, revealed as possessing a structure, an order of meaning” (5). Here, White emphasizes that a historical account must not only reflect the sequence of real events in time, but the events must be given a sense of “meaning” that explains causality.

In Aspects of the Novel, Forester supplements White’s theory by outlining narrative techniques used in literature to create meaning. Thus he provides useful definitions for analyzing how literary techniques operate in The Jungle to give it the moral meaning White requires of historical writing. In his book Forester clarifies the difference between a story and plot, and their relationship to causality. He explains that, “a story [is] a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality…the time sequence is preserved” (86). Thus, going back to White’s theory, a true history must have plot: it preserves the chronological order of events as they happen in real life, while the explanation of causality provides meaning, thereby meeting White’s guidelines.

The last two paragraphs of chapter twelve in The Jungle are representative of Sinclair’s use of both fictional and historical elements, and thus provide good material for defining how history and fiction coexist in the novel as specified by the theories of White and Forester. One element of this passage that is pertinent to the discussion of history versus fictional narrativity is its use of imaginary events: they disqualify the novel from the genre of historical narrative, and they reflect the difficulty of making real events “speak themselves” (White 4). So immediately, the imaginary events of these paragraphs–the story of Jurgis’s life–prevent The Jungle from being a historical narrative and classify the novel as a literary narrative, as according to White–a stipulation that is common sense. In this section, the imaginary events are used to give a context for the historical events–the laws regarding work related injuries and the data on average wages–which supports White’s claim that real events do not present themselves as an insightful, meaningful narrative. For instance, the historical information reads that when a man is injured,

He would get his place back only by courtesy of the boss. To this there was no exception, save when the accident was one for which the firm was liable; in that case they would send a slippery lawyer to see him, first to try to sign away his claims, but if he was too smart for that, to promise him that [he] should always be provided with work. This promise they would keep, strictly and to the letter – for two years. Two years as the ‘statute of limitations’ (150).

This historical information taken alone shows that when a worker is injured, the company has a limited obligation to keep the worker employed; it does not “speak by itself” and assume a moral stance. Rather, a meaning to these historical facts forms when placed in the context of the novel’s imaginary events and literary, or narrative, devices are used. Thus, Sinclair’s use of imaginary events and devices common to literary narrative highlights White’s point that real events do not have implicit meaning; using White’s language, real events must be “coaxed” and “fashioned” into narrative to provide “truth.”

Sinclair’s use of forms common to literature to make the real events of these paragraphs “speak” parallels White’s idea that in order for history to have a coherent meaning or “truth,” elements of narrativity must be present. The narrator, who is of course is an element of narrativity, provides a clear moral stance on the historical data: he exclaims that an injured worker’s legal rights inflict unfair physical stress on the worker, since they have no choice but to accept dangerous lest they should fall into poverty; the narrator focuses upon the imaginary events of Jurgis’s life. Also, since the narrator has a third person omniscient viewpoint, he can see into Jurgis’s thoughts, thoughts which Sinclair also uses to rebuke the packers. Sinclair writes:

The peculiar bitterness of all this was that Jurgis saw so plainly the meaning of it, In the beginning he had been fresh and strong…but now he was second-hand, a damaged article, so to speak, and they did not want him. They had got the best out of him – they had worn him out, with their speeding-up an their carelessness, and now they had thrown him away! (149)

Here Jurgis’s suffering, revealed by his thoughts about how the packers have used his all his energy and left him to struggle without work, shows Sinclair’s moral stance on the packing factories in Chicago. Also, Sinclair uses the narrator to voice opinions: the narrator’s exclamation expresses Sinclair’s feeling that the treatment of workers is not fair. Thus, imaginary events and a narrator, tools of literary narrative, work to make The Jungle meet qualifications of historical narrative. In summary, the key points of White’s theory on historical writing work off of each other: real events do not make sense or “speak” for themselves without narrative elements; and an account of reality does not qualify as a historical narrative unless it possesses a moral basis or purpose, which literary elements provide.

Forester’s discussion of how literary narratives achieve a plot also shows how elements common to fiction work in The Jungle to give it the qualities that White argue define historical narrative. In the excerpt quoted above that explains the moral stance of Jurgis and the narrator, Sinclair establishes causality, the key element of plot: although the causality is between imaginary and real events, he establishes the connection that the laws cause Jurgis’s suffering because they are unjust. This is a more intellectual process than merely listing the events as they happen in time, which Forester defines as the “story” of a narrative. Rather, Sinclair shows why the laws lead to suffering, thereby establishing plot. Thus, plot is a literary device that is used in historical narratives to provide the meaning or “truth” that White discusses. Furthermore, the plot in this section of the novel meets White’s requirement that a historical writing must present events “within the chronological framework of their original occurrence” (5) while also providing meaning. Although these events in the novel are presented in reverse chronological order–the audience is first told that Jurgis is stuck without work, and afterwards learns about the laws on injured workers–it is discernable that the laws were put into place before Jurgis’s hardship. This comparison between Forester’s definition of plot and White’s theory on historical writing shows how elements of both literary and historical narrative overlap in The Jungle.

It is reasonable to say that the status of The Jungle as a historical or fictional work is difficult to recognize at first because elements of both genres from a complex relationship in the novel. White and Forester help clarify this relationship, arguing that some elements such as imaginary events belong solely in the genre of fictional literature, many literary devices create an overlap between fiction and history. The Jungle is very close to meeting all the requirements of historical narrative–only imaginary events set it back. However, since the fictional events are of the genre Realism, they are as close as possible to being real events, thus making the novel as close as possible to a historical narrative.

Works Cited

Forester, E. M. Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harvest, 1927.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Penguin, 1985.

White, Hayden. On Narrative. Ed. J. T. Mitchell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

A Catch-22: The Defiling and Perversion of Femininity in The Jungle

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a novel that follows a penniless Lithuanian family surviving in Packingtown, the meat-packing district of Chicago, underlines the stark gender divide in destitute environments. Ona Lukoszaite, a meek and frail teenager, serves as the novel’s prime archetype of the distinctive ways that women suffer in poverty. Corrupt and patriarchal capitalist structures, which in turn create destitution, force Ona to sully and perverse her own femininity in order to survive; Ona defiles her own femininity by performing physically strenuous labor and unwillingly prostituting herself. For the purposes of this essay, femininity will be defined as the traditional prototype of the woman. Femininity is characterized by weakness, submissiveness, emotion, and a maternal nature not usually found in the advertised prototype of a man. Ona’s environment ultimately punishes her for her need to meddle with her femininity by expediting her physical and mental deterioration and deeming her tainted for her “corrupt morality.” Thus, through the characterization of Ona, Sinclair indicates a vicious circle for women in impoverishment: a poor woman must defile and pervert her own femininity to survive in a demanding capitalist system, but, in doing so, she will inevitably mentally and physically deteriorate because of her less masculine form and mental and emotional incapability – a Catch-22.

At the beginning of the novel, Ona is characterized as remarkably pure, docile, and evidently not fit to do exacting labor. These traits are consistent with the archetype of traditional femininity. When Ona and Jurgis Rudkus, her husband, wed in a traditional Lithuanian ceremony, Ona, clad in a “conspicuously white” dress is overcome with emotion. Sinclair describes Ona as wearing a “muslin dress, conspicuously white,” and “new white cotton gloves upon her hands, and as she stood staring about her, she twisted them together feverishly” (2). Frequent mention of the color white evokes a feeling of cleanliness, which signifies chastity or purity. Therefore, Ona’s “conspicuously white” and “new white” gloves emphasize Ona’s innocence and initial moral righteousness. However, despite Ona’s virtue, she is evidently shaken and frightened; at the wedding “her lids trembled, and her otherwise wan little face was flushed,” “she twisted them [her gloves] together feverishly,” and “it [the wedding] was almost too much for her – you could see the pain of too great emotion in her face, and all the tremor of her form” (2). Ona’s clear fear throughout the ceremony further highlights her timid and apprehensive nature, which in turn underlines her submissiveness and femininity.

Furthermore, Ona’s inability to control her emotions and her physical reaction to situations that scare her are stereotypically feminine traits. Sinclair’s description of Ona’s body at the wedding like “wan little face” and “all the tremor of her form” paint pictures of Ona being physically small and frail, as well. Her small body and the fact that her emotions were “almost too much for her” foreshadow Ona’s inevitable hardships in the physically arduous factory workspace. Her physical frailty does not go unnoticed by others: Jurgis “would not have Ona working—he was not that sort of a man, he said, and she was not that sort of a woman” (51). However, Jurgis’ insistence on protecting Ona and upholding traditional gender roles is soon sullied when Ona must work to keep the family afloat. Ona must sacrifice for the family now, although “she was so sensitive—she was not fitted for such a life as this” (88). By being forced to do taxing physical labor, which is innately for those more muscular or masculine, Ona is defiling and degrading her own fragile femininity. However, again, she must do so to survive. The initial characterization of Ona as innocent and delicate exemplifies her femininity, and makes her even more vulnerable to the toiling nature of penniless factory life, which is especially conducive to the masculine.

Ona’s environment punishes her for defiling her own femininity in working in a physically demanding factory system fit for the masculine. She suffers from physical ailments and mental hysteria because of her laborious work. After Ona gives birth to her first child while maintaining a fulltime work schedule, Sinclair describes her as “visibly going to pieces. In the first place, she was developing a cough, like the one that killed old Dede Antanas… She would have frightful headaches and fits of aimless weeping; and sometimes she would come home at night shuddering and moaning” (170). The Taylorist system of Packingtown, dependent on the brute force of men, coerces Ona to slowly break her physically incapable body. Ona is not fit for such work purely because, in Sinclair’s eyes, she is physically feminine. Her body is simply not able to handle as much as men and more masculine women, as evidenced by her deadly cough, headaches, shudders and moans. Furthermore, Ona is viscerally mentally affected by the struggles of Packingtown in a particularly feminized way. She would “fling herself down upon the bed and burst into tears. Several times she was quite beside herself and hysterical…It was the life she had to live, the accursed work she had to do, that was killing her by inches. She was not fitted for it – no woman was fitted for it, no woman ought to be allowed to do such work” (170). Jurgis would also catch Ona’s eye, “and it seemed to him like the eye of a hunted animal; there were broken phrases of anguish and despair now and then, amid her frantic weeping” (171). Describing Ona as “hysterical,” a word with a very female-baiting history, coming from the Latin hystericus meaning “of the womb,” and her weeping as “frantic” emphasizes the feminine nature of Ona’s mental deterioration. In Sinclair’s eyes, Ona’s overwhelming emotions make her too mentally weak for the “accursed work she had to do,” so much so that it is “killing her.” The comparison of Ona to a “hunted animal” also conveys that Ona is vulnerable to being taken advantage of or suffering from her physical and mental weakness. The impairing of traditional femininity – Packingtown demanding that women work to help feed their families – is the underlying cause of Ona’s unpredictable emotions, outbursts and madness and vulnerability to the American capitalist system. Thus, Ona is stuck in a predicament; she must abandon her own sense of femininity and do work that “no women was fitted” for, but when she does so, her womanliness is the cause of her physical and mental decline. Her body is not fit for such work, and she is not mentally capable to handle the hardships of factory life and child birth.

The seduction plot between Ona and her boss Phil Connor, who rapes Ona and bullies her into prostitution, exemplifies how Ona’s required perversion of traditional femininity ultimately leads to her downfall. After Jurgis discovers Ona’s connection to Connor, “it was as if he had struck a knife into her. She seemed to go all to pieces… with a cry of anguish, she tottered forward, stretching out her arms to him. But he stepped aside, deliberately, and let her fall… There came one of those hysterical crises that he so often dismayed him. Ona sobbed and wept, her fear and anguish building themselves up into long climaxes. Furious gusts of emotion would come sweeping over her, shaking her as the tempest shakes the trees upon the hills; all her frame would quiver and throb with them—it was as if some dreadful thing rose up within her and took possession of her, torturing her, tearing her” (179). Again, Ona’s hysteria and uncontrollable emotional outbursts indicate her supposed mental weaknesses, a trait present in an archetypal female character. However, Ona’s emotional eruption is different compared to her outbursts when due to excessive work. Despite the fact that she is forcibly raped and put into prostitution, she is now guilty of perverting her own femininity. Her “furious gusts of emotion” are more violent and “some dreadful thing,” most likely guilt or shame, takes control and tears at her body, a more visceral and painful description than given in her previous meltdowns.

Although Ona feels shame for her relationship with Connor, Sinclair indicates that this is not at the fault of the many women similar to Ona. Sinclair writes about prostitutes in Packingtown: “Here was a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation, and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances immorality was exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it was under the system of chattel slavery” (129). Sinclair recognizes that systematic and structural features of the capitalist system force Ona into prostitution. Again, she must pervert her own femininity because the system requires it of her. Thus, the demanding capitalist system is mostly at fault for her mental and physical demise. Ona is forever a “damned soul” purely for the fact that Ona has perverted traditional femininity by prostituting herself and copulating with her boss.

In Packingtown, which is completely dependent on the brute force of the masculine, femininity is a disadvantage. In this sense, Ona was doomed from the start. As a prototype for traditional femininity, Ona is too weak and too emotionally volatile. However, in order to survive, she must defile and pervert this sense of femininity, resulting in even more mental and physical deterioration. As if to drive this point home, Sinclair has Ona painfully die from child birth, emphasizing the fact that Ona’s womanliness was the cause of her eventual demise. Ona’s death by child birth signifies the inability for Ona to return as an archetype of traditional femininity. Because she has tainted and defiled her own femininity through hard labor and prostitution, she cannot perform in a traditional feminine role as a mother.