Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Review: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
I'm not going to lie to you and say "OMG this book was amazing and surprisingly easy to read and changed my life!", because, frankly, it isn't really any of those things. I did really like the book, but it wasn't so good I couldn't put it down. And honestly, it was so depressing that I could only read a few chapters at a time, which is probably why it took me a surprisingly long time to read it! As far as "reading ability", I have to say, I was sort of scared to read this because I've heard that it's pretty intimidating. I read Jane Austen all the time and really love classics, so I'm no stranger to "intimidating old-fashioned writing", but I was nervous. The Jungle, though, while it wasn't super easy, it also wasn't so fluffed up with old-fashionedness that I couldn't understand it. I actually thought the writing was really good. And as for "changing my life", the book was really good and took away my chicken wing cravings for a few days because of some graphic pig and cow slaughtering scenes, but it's not like I'm going to sit here and say "everyone should read this book at least once!". Read it if you are truly interested in reading things that made an impact in the world, or if you are really interested to see what life in big cities was like at the turn of the 1900s.
On to the plot summary.
Here's the down and dirty (or really quick actually) synopsis: Family moves from Europe to America and ends up in Chicago. No jobs. No money. Family gets jobs and buys house and things start looking up. Someone loses job. Someone dies. Things go downhill. Then someone gets new job and starts making money again. Things start looking up. Then someone dies. Then things go downhill again and there is no money. Then they get new jobs. Then someone else dies. And so on. Now do you see what I mean when I say "depressing"?!
While this book is well known for its intense descriptions of the meat packing industry, there is so much more to it. We get to see all about the scandals within city government. We see what life was like for the poor working class at the turn of the century. We see how votes for elections were bought and sold.
Basically we get to see a comprehensive look at what life was all about for poor immigrant families back in the day. And it's pretty grim. I'm sure not all families suffered like this one did, but I'm also sure that this book isn't a total exageration.
Oh yeah, just a side note: I don't know how many people still read Emile Zola nowadays, but I took a class last semester where we read two Zola novels. One of them, L'Assommoir, has a REALLY long and boring wedding scene. This book has pretty much the exact same long and boring wedding scene. Though I was probably so unhappy to read it in The Jungle because I'm still a bit scared from reading SO much Zola in one semester (in French!). I do wonder a bit if Sinclair read any of Zola's stuff.
As I said above, if you're interested in life back in the day, or in the meat packing industry, or anything at all related to corruption, then read this book. But maybe don't read it if you have a weak stomach!
Here are some memorable quotes:
Pg. 126: "The men who worked on the killing beds would come to reak with foulness, so that you could smell one of them from fifty feet away.." Oh yeah, doesn't life look awesome for these people?! (Not!)
Pg. 236: "She had to bury one of her children-but then she had done it three times before, and each time risen up and gone back to take up the battle for the rest. Elzbieta was one of the primitive creatures: like the angleworm, which goes on living though cut in half: like a hen, which, deprived of her chickens one by one, will mother the last that is left her. She did this because it was her nature-she asked no questions about the justice of it, nor the worthwhileness of life in which destruction and death ran riot."
Pg. 375: "And Jurgis was a man who's soul had been murdered, who had ceased to hope and to struggle.."