By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Casey Affleck
“The Jungle” is a grim tale written by Upton Sinclair about the meat-packing industry in early 20th century America. Sinclair exposes the dark side of poverty, urbanization, and immigration in the United States. It reminds one of Charles Dickens’ stories of child labor in London but does not offer much warmth or balance. Sinclair’s story offers no respite from utter degradation. There is no respite for a reader to believe there is any redemption for being poor in Chicago in the early 1900s.
In Dickens novels, there are some remnants of human joy; even in impoverished London. In Sinclair’s “…Jungle”, the only glimmer of light is small-scale concern for fellow human beings. The early days of the union movement offer some hope. However, even Sinclair’s positive sentiments are corrupted by politics. Sinclair idealizes socialism and touches on early communism.
Hearing of the meat industry; its lax government oversight, greedy meat-packing corporations, and corrupt politicians, drags listeners into hell. Grinding poverty changes a family of ambitious immigrants into cogs in a meat butchering machine that breaks spirits and turns good people into bums and latent criminals. The life cycle for an honest immigrant is grim; arriving poor; staying poor, and dying. The only avenues out of poverty are crime and immorality.
Lessons of “The Jungle” are reminders of the limits of unregulated capitalism. Sinclair attacks the meat packing industry of the 1900s.
Descriptions are given of spoiled meat ground into sausages and loaded with chemicals for appearance and smell, with too much production to be adequately inspected by too few inspectors.
Employees loose limbs and lives with corporate lawyers preparing to swindle the uneducated with unfair financial settlements. Wages are too low to offer enough money for shelter and food; let alone savings, to break the cycle of poverty. Promotion is limited to those who are willing to compromise their morality by feeding a corrupt system that thrives on human exploitation.
Modern America is not quite so dark but inequality of opportunity still plagues capitalism with wealth, greed, and political corruption hiding the dire condition of the poor. Images of poverty and what it leads to are still seen in American cities; i.e. people living on the street, begging for a dollar to eat; some drinking the dollar away at a local tavern because it blunts the pain of being poor and offers a haven from a cold winter day; young people, some children, turning tricks to survive; selling their body because low paying jobs of high volume/low price conglomerates do not pay enough for rent and food.
Every country in the world benefits and suffers from the nature of man and the effects of urbanization; none offer Eden. America remains a land of opportunity. America still offers the best known vehicle for freedom, but equality of opportunity is a work in progress. As long as the American poor remain hidden; the rich and middle class will avert their eyes, mutter “get a job”, and think the poor get what they deserve.