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The Jungle As Socialist Propaganda

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In the world of economic competition that we live in today, many thrive and many are left to dig through trashcans. It has been a constant struggle throughout the modern history of society. One widely prescribed example of this struggle is Upton Sinclair's groundbreaking novel, The Jungle. The Jungle takes the reader along on a journey with a group of recent Lithuanian immigrants to America. As well as a physical journey, this is a journey into a new world for them. They have come to America, where in the early twentieth century it was said that any man willing to work an honest day would make a living and could support his family. It is an ideal that all Americans are familiar with- one of the foundations that got American society where it is today. However, while telling this story, Upton Sinclair engages the reader in a symbolic and metaphorical war against capitalism. Sinclair's contempt for capitalist society is present throughout the novel, from cover to cover, personified in the eagerness of Jurgis to work, the constant struggle for survival of the workers of Packingtown, the corruption of "the man" at all levels of society, and in many other ways.

To understand the ways in which political systems are important to this novel, it is necessary to define both capitalism and socialism as they are relevant to The Jungle. Capitalism, and more specifically, laissez-faire capitalism, is the economic system in America. It basically means that producers and consumers have the right to accumulate and spend their money through any legal means they choose. It is the economic system most fitting with the idea of the American Dream. The American Dream portrays the idea that if a man is lazy, he might not do so well, but if a man wants to work and educate himself and try to create a fortune, there is nothing standing in his way. Some believe that Capitalism is the cause for much of the poverty in the nation today, but any hardcore capitalist will tell you that capitalism inherited poverty, and far from being a cause of poverty, it is the only solution.

However, believers in socialism would completely disagree with this ideal. Socialism is the economic system in which the workers, instead of a rich minority of entrepreneurs, own all industry. Workers receive the full fruits of their labors instead of being given miniscule compensation for backbreaking labor. Since the people are paid well for their work, work becomes a cooperative entity where people come to rely on one another and people actually are more inclined to do their fair share to help the advancement of society as a whole.

In order to discuss these issues as they are pertinent to this story, a general summary of the story must first be given. The story revolves around the life and family of Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to America with his wife Ona, their children, and a few members of their extended family. They have heard the stories of other Lithuanian immigrants coming to America and making a fortune in the free economic system of America. They are bright-eyed looking ahead into their futures. They are moved into a section of Chicago known as Packingtown, a slum full of run-down housing and large polluting factories where workers sped their lives indoors toiling for meager wages. They are unaware of the plots of many citizens to swindle anyone they can and are taken by a few of them. America is not quite what it seems, but they are determined to make lives for themselves there since coming to America was the dream of many immigrants of this period. Their futures hold many unexpected setbacks and disasters, which will be discussed, that all but break their spirits.

The story opens at the veselija, or wedding party of Jurgis and his new wife, Ona. They have just arrived from Chicago and are celebrating their marriage in a bar in their neighborhood. It is a description of a large gathering of happy Lithuanian people enjoying a rare abundance of food, alcohol, and good times. There is music, dancing, singing, and many of the same things we would expect today at a wedding party. When hungry people gather outside the door, it is Lithuanian custom to invite them inside for their fill of food and drink. Near the end of the party, each male guest shares a dance with the bride and drops money into a hat held by Ona's stepmother, Teta Elzbieta, in order to pay for this party, which costs as much as many people would make in a year.

The symbols of socialism and capitalism are present right from the start in this story. Sinclair first depicts the Lithuanian event with many of the same things and the partygoers with many of the same values (i.e. getting drunk, dancing) as we might see today to give the reader a sense of identity with the Lithuanians. He is beginning to get the reader to sympathize with these people. The grand time they are having is all part of traditions that these people have brought with them from their homeland. The people pitch in together to pay, everyone has their fill of everything, and strangers are brought in and welcomed. This is a strong symbol of socialism, where everyone is considered an equal. However, he mentions that sometimes, the barkeeps rip off the organizers of such parties by giving them poorer quality alcohol or overestimating the amount of alcohol consumed by the guests. This is a show of the swindling that Sinclair is characteristic of the "every man for himself" idea of capitalism. Some people leave the party without contributing to the family, and when Ona stresses about how they will pay, Jurgis says he will simply "work Harder." This builds sympathy for Jurgis and his almost superhuman work ethic. Sinclair also shows the poverty of the working class by having hungry people standing outside hungry. Sinclair is very detailed with his description f this party and occasionally uses the second person tense ("to spend such a sum, all in a single day of your life"(17)) to hit the reader with a more personalized understanding of exactly what these people are sacrificing. Overall, this party is the initial stage in his barrage on capitalism where he shows that when the immigrants came here, their values were pure, but just out side the door, or in the future, there was a dark and dirty change from the normal waiting for them.

The area that most strongly illustrates the unfairness of capitalism that Sinclair is trying to show the reader is the plight of the workers in Packingtown. Reforms in working conditions were one of the main reasons



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