Friday, April 11, 2008

Book Review: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle is the story of Jurgis and his family who are attempting to make their fortune in the stockyards of early 20th century Chicago. Jurgis is a Lithuanian immigrant who quickly learns that although wages are "high" in America, so are the expenses and is if this were not enough to contend with there is an army of conmen, corrupt officials and greedy employers ready to cheat the family out of their hard-earned wages.

The early parts of this book describe the deplorable conditions in which food is manufactured and workers are worn down and eventually cast aside and the story quickly becomes one of hardship and misery with very few moments of happiness. However, I found that the characters, particularly Jurgis, are ones that I could care about and each downturn of fortune that they suffer made me feel for them and people like them around the world who still work in such conditions.

One fault of the book is that everything that could go wrong for the family does go wrong; family members gradually die off, Jurgis ends up in prison, homeless, injured, adopts the life of a tramp etc. and this stretches the credibility of the plot. Towards the end The Jungle becomes something of a propoganda piece for socialism and loses its way - finishing with a disappointing and idealistic rant. Whilst the story does an excellent job of highlighting the follies of ultra-capitalism the author seems to portray socialism in a rather niaive way.

These faults aside, The Jungle is a great story of woe about a character that most working men can relate to and I found myself turning the pages hoping to find that poor Jurgis would finally get a break.

The Jungle is a thought-provoking story about interesting characters but is not likely to make the reader feel good about the world; possibly the most depressing novel I have ever read but compelling all the same.

Score: 8.5/10

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