I hadn’t read The Jungle before, though of course I’d heard many things about it. I have to say I wasn’t really looking forward to the grosser parts, having the queasy stomach that I do (and it didn’t help that there’s a big picture of raw steak on the cover of my copy, which made me gag repeatedly).
My husband read this back in high school but didn’t remember too much about it. He though it was interesting when I was explaining that Sinclair intended for the book to be propaganda. (I believe his exact words were, “they don’t tell you that in high school!”) And yes of course propaganda it is. I get really annoyed with preachy stuff like this, so for me The Jungle wasn’t a very enjoyable read. I found myself saying, “come on, I get it,” many times. And the thing is, as horrible as Sinclair made Jurgis’s families lives sound, I didn’t really care because I never could connect with the characters. So, I’m sticking by what I said in class: I see Sinclair’s point here, and I see what he’s trying to do. I also understand that he didn’t want to define Jurgis and his family too much because A) it means they could be anyone, any family and B) his point wasn’t to write a novel with great characters. But if I would have been able to care about the characters more then maybe I would have cared more in general, and the “propaganda” would have been more effective in winning me over, instead of just making me roll my eyes. (Like Mary said in class, there should have been one wise-cracking funny guy at the plant that kept everyone going; then at the end Sinclair could've throw him into a pot of sausage and I may have felt bad.)
Because I couldn’t get into the story much, maybe I did focus on the gross-out parts to hold my interest. The rats in the sausage factory was by far the worst part - dead poisoned rats and rat poo in my sausage. And the spitting on the floor where the meat is, and the leaking pipes landing on the meat. And all the chemicals to make the meat seem fresh (it reminds me of the vacuum seals and dyes they put on meat still now, every once in a while you see it on a TV newsmagazine show, meat producers today still use the same tricks!). I know the one kid in the book died from bad meat, but I wonder if people were dying all the time from this (seems they would be), and if so, why was the population so shocked to find out this was going on when The Jungle came out? They should have put two and two together by then if they constantly had food poisoning.
I do want to say, regarding the character’s fates, that I don’t think Sinclair should have killed off Jurgis’s son. By doing that, we sort of don’t have a reason to continually care about what happens next. Again, maybe this is just because I read for stories, I read novels, I write novels… so for me this just wasn’t my style. But for historical value, I would still recommend this book. But yes, I think I’m going to stay away from any type of sausage for a while. I’m already off hotdogs after watching one of those “How It’s Made” episodes about them on cable television a few months back.
Historical Value: A+
Story and Plot: C
Aide in Weight Loss Regimen: A