Realism and Naturalism
Many naturalistic works demonstrate the problems when capitalism is allowed to run ramped in a society. Naturalistic books take good, moral, and just characters; puts them through a series of events which are out of their control. The end result is a character which the reader empathies with even though, the reader wouldn’t like what the character has become. This happens in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Sinclair takes a realistic approach when looking at his world and sees this uncontrollable force called capitalism. By showing the middle class readers part of ordinary lives that would shock and awe them these Sinclair is able to effect change.
In The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s original goal is to expose the improper treatment of immigrant workers and child labor by paying them wages that do not allow for survival. Sinclair uses the main character Jugis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, to show how capitalism takes advantage of the poor and uses them as extremely cheap labor without regard for their welfare. In many ways the conditions Sinclair describes are cheaper labor then slavery. This is described in the book as “There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where things are behind bars, and the man is outside.” (Sinclair pg. 337) Rather than being enslaved and behind bars Jugis and his family are on the outside of the bars where things such as food, medicine, and shelter are one the inside, just out of reach.
At the begging of the book Jugis is an enthusiastic, bright eyed, young man who is eager to live and work in America. He believed in America, “rich or poor, a man was free, it was said; … he did not have to pay out his money to rascally officials, --he might do as he pleased, and count himself as good as any other man.” (Sinclair pg. 23) With this being his idea of America Jugis brought his family of twelve (six adults and six children) in all to Chicago. Eventually this uncontrollable force of capitalism had Jugis working in the Stockyards of Chicago at a meat packing plant. Jugis’s job does not pay him enough and other members of his family are required to procure employment as well. The family then undergoes a series of unfortunate events that result in their suffering and death, all because of the uncontrollable force called capitalism.
His father, Dede Antanas, is one of the first family members to step up and help provide for the family. Dede is so old that he ends up having to pay a man one third of his wages in return for a job. This job is so unsanitary and unsafe that Dede ends up dying of lung infection.
Jugis’s wife, Ona, gets a job working for Phil Connor in a factory. She is constantly sexually harassed by him and he ends up raping her. Ona dies from blood loss during delivery of the child which is a result of Phil raping her. Phil is the representation and embodiment of everything that is wrong and corrupt with Chicago and capitalism.
After his wife dies his young son drowns in a muddy street while Jugis is at work. These two events and his overall failure to provide for his family, drive him to leave, his family, the city, everything. “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; of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent and clean, to see their child group up to be strong. And now it was all gone-it would never be!” (Sinclair pg. 163) As a result of Jugis’s abandonment, Marija, Ona’s cousin becomes a prostitute to feed the remaining children. While at the brothel Marija, becomes addicted to morphine. These were a series of unfortunate events that had either resulted in the death of two children and three adults.
Jugis is arrested for a bar fight over change of a $100 bill and goes to jail. One of the great examples of how capitalism has effected Jurgis is when he prefers being in jail then out, and wishes they put his family in jail. “"They put him in a place where the snow could not beat in, where the cold could not eat through his bones; they brought him food and drink-why, in the name of heaven, if they must punish him, did they not put his family in jail and leave him outside-why could they find no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six helpless children to starve and freeze?” (Singclair pg. 191) While in jail he meets Jack who introduces Jugis to Chicago’s criminal underworld. Jugis becomes hired muscle and then goes back to the stockyards in hopes to get the union workers to vote for a republican candidate.
Sinclair would claim these series of unfortunate events just explained can be all tied to capitalism out of control. If only those companies were not so greedy and paid Jugis a wage which he could live on none of these events would have happened. Sinclair then turns the coin when Jugis returns to the city and is working as a con-man. This is evidence that capitalism is this evil force that will corrupt and ruin all who try to profit. It will also take advantage of the poor and any who are innocent victims.
In the end of the book Sinclair has, Jugis attending a political rally for the Socialists. The moment Jugis becomes a socialist things are finally becoming good for him. He becomes a porter at a hotel which is a social hotbed. He then returns to the children which capitalism had forced him to abandon. By the end of the book Sinclair has two characters becoming something that the reader would normally not empathize with; but because of the books naturalistic view point you feel sorry for Jurgis, the socialist, and Marija, the morphine addicted prostitute. The entire book is meant by Singclair to be a realistic example of how much capitalism is negative social effect, in the late 19th and early 20th century, America.
The book did not have the effect Sinclair wanted, Sinclair was hoping for reform with child labor, or fair wages. As a result of Sinclair’s novel there was a public outcry and “caused the Government investigation into the methods employed by the Beef Trust”. (Sinclair 2 pg. 3) The result of that investigation was within a few months of the book being published the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 were passed. Sinclair said this about the results of his book; “I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” (Wilson pg. 1) Many naturalistic books targeted capitalism as their uncontrollable force, yet few suggest other alternatives like Sinclair suggested socialism. Few Naturalistic books had the fast and swift reaction of the public and the Government. The book had such an impact that it was run as a long series in the “The Sun” a newspaper out of Tallahassee, Flordia. Although it was not the change Sinclair was hoping for he did achieve major change, through showing something that would shock and awe, the middle class.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1906.
Sinclair 2, Upton. "The Jungle." The Sun 14 July 1906: Third.
Wilson, James C. The Heath Anthology of American LiteratureUpton Sinclair- Author Page. n.d. 19 March 2011