The Jungle: Life Struggles in 1900's America
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair started a lot of change in America in the early 1900’s. The book did a great job highlighting the issues at the time. Not only did it focus on the struggles of being a new immigrant in the United States, but it also showed how much power the factory owners had in the politics of Chicago.
In the beginning of the book Jurgis finds a job at a meat packing plant. After recently immigrating to the United States from Lithuania, he was overcome with joy when he found a job. The job pays a low hourly wage of seventeen and a half cents per hour. This really puts the socioeconomic state of the country into perspective. It seems as though many aspects of life are not as regulated as they are today. To work for pennies on the dollar an hour sounds outrageous in today’s time. Despite the low pay it seemed as that just having any type of job was a major accomplishment to newer immigrants. This low pay seemed to be a norm amongst those Jurgis interacted with. This implies that majority of people at the time worked for very low wages. Clearly economic inequality was a major problem at the time the jungle was written.
Continuing with the socioeconomics of the time, Jurgis went with the group to go purchase a house. The intent was to house about twelve people in the home. With the location in Chicago where space is limited, this sounds just as bad as the low wages. When purchasing they were trying to figure out how the group would collectively pay for the house. Even with twelve people they still had little money to spare. This really highlights how poor the living conditions were for immigrants moving into these large cities. With little regulations on real estate, the poor were put at a huge disadvantage. The real estate agent the group talked to was clearly trying to trick them not only into renting rather than buying, but offering them a poorly constructed house.
Based off my understanding of the time, the book seems historically accurate. At the time many immigrants were coming to the United States for promise of a better life. Many were poor, did not speak English, and had few job skills. These facts are apparent in the case of Jurgis. Jurgis just came over to the United States from Lithuania and did not know any English. It was not until well into the book that Jurgis started to learn the English language. Jurgis fit the description of many immigrants coming to the country at the time. Based off my understanding of the time from class, Upton Sinclair does a great job encapsulating the current time by creating characters that represent the struggles new immigrants face.
Throughout the book, it is clear that the rich factory owners have the most power in the city. The rich owners are able to exploit their immigrant employees by paying them poor wages and by giving them little power or protection in the workplace. Today we have labor unions and workers’ rights groups that would insure that employees are paid a fair wage and work in decent conditions. Reading this book from a 2018 perspective is really eye opening to how poorly regulated the United States was at the time. What struck me was when the book got into discussing Mike Scully. The politician owned many of the factories in the district, and was able to use his power to influence the mayor. Scully even had people out to help immigrants become citizens and cast votes to keep him in power. This type of power seems to be apparent in different cities across the United States. Scully’s position as a political boss causes many of the hardships that Jurgis experiences throughout the book.
I believe that today’s journalism is the closest thing to having the same affect the jungle had on society. The jungle sought to expose the corruption and the negligence in the meat packing industry. Back then media outlets did not have the reach that they have today. In the early 1900’s books were the easiest way to convey these types of messages to people. The Jungle describes instances where the newspapers would pick up on scandals, but the impending investigations would be paid off or the situation would be ignored. Now we have the internet to bring many of these issues to light. The majority of people have smartphones and can get notifications from news groups instantly. As these news groups report on issues people collectively voice their opinions and outrage through social media or in the form of protests. As an example, Wells Fargo had been in a scandal where they had been creating bank accounts in their customers names in order to boost their numbers. After news originations broke the story, people were able to voice their outrage regarding Wells Fargo’s actions. As a result, the company had to change leadership and work to rebrand themselves. This is similar to the affect that the Jungle had on the United States. After the books debut, changes were made to labor laws and the food industry. News outlets today work in part to expose the corruption that goes on outside of the public’s eye.
Reading the Jungle was an eye-opening experience. It really puts the early 1900’s in perspective. Poor regulations and political corruption seemed to be a very common thing at the time. We have discussed these topics in class, but The Jungle really gives insight on how poor the conditions were at the time. The Jungle makes me realize how lucky we are to have Government regulations in place to keep these events from repeating themselves.
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