Written in 1906, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle follows the plight of Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant and his family, as they struggle to make a living in Chicago. Jurgis finds work at a meatpacking company, allowing Sinclair to expose the unsanitary and inhumane working conditions of the industry. Speaking very little English, Jurgis and his family become victims of con artists, corporate greed, political corruption, violence, harassment, and exploitation. They reel from one catastrophe to another, from one tragedy to another. We witness their physical and moral decline as the novel progresses. Sinclair’s description of the horrific working conditions and grossly contaminated meat sold to unsuspecting consumers caused a huge public outcry. This led the government to implement much needed reforms, one of which was passage of the Meat Inspection Act.
Sinclair performed a valuable service in exposing the horrors of the meat packing industry at the turn of the century. However, at times his novel reads more like a political treatise than a work of fiction. He hammers home his political agenda so heavily that the novel borders on becoming tiresome. But possibly this heavy-handed intrusion of political, economic, and social injustices was necessary at the time to get the public’s attention