After reading Brenda’s response to The Jungle, I have to say I agreed with a lot of her opinions on it. I also read this book back in high school, without any recollection of my teacher having pointed out to us that the book was written to be propaganda, even though it was an honors English class! You would think that being in an honors class would purport heavier and more meaningful discussion topics on the reading, but I guess not. It took reading the book the second time around for me to see the reasons behind why the characters were in fact highly under developed. Again, like Brenda said, if the characters had been described in more detail and their emotions focused on for more than a few sentences at a time, it would have made it a much more compelling read for me. Relating to the characters and being able to feel their pain is what pulls me in, and the fact that I couldn’t do that for Jurgis and his family made it much harder for me to care what ended up happening to them as I kept reading. Since Jurgis was the “main character”, perhaps the book could have been written from his point of view, but then, historically speaking, Sinclair’s purpose of showing the whole system, and the way in which Jurgis’s family was just a cog in the so called machine wouldn’t have been portrayed to its full potential.
I did appreciate the effort that Sinclair put into getting his point across, especially after Professor Urrea pointed out to us that he even posed as an immigrant and lived in the slums and worked in the slaughter house in order to better illustrate the plight of the working class families, but I didn’t quite understand the reason behind the lack of a sense of climax or completion. Granted, their lives were weary, but as a reader, seeing how the slightest ray of hope was rewarded by some catastrophe really discouraged me from wanting to continue reading to see how the characters would evolve or even, god forbid, prosper. For example, when Jurgis gets the hundred dollar bill and goes into the bar to get change, but the bar tender steals the hundred dollars and Jurgis ends up in custody for fighting in a bar. Its like, did I really just go from having a smile on my face (because something nice actually happened for Jurgis) to pissed off and thinking “I should have known this would happen” in the course of two pages? How many more times is this going to happen? Oh wait, for the rest of the book...
As disgusting as all of the descriptions of the slaughter houses and the rats that went into the vats and the meats were, I was more disturbed and mortified at the conditions in which the men and children were forced to work: “the men would tie up their feet in newspapers and old sacks, and these would be soaked in blood and frozen, and then soaked again, and so on, until by night time a man would be walking on great lumps the size of the feet of an elephant. Now and then, when the bosses were not looking, you would see them plunging their feet and ankles into the steaming hot carcass of the steer”. This not only makes my heart go out to these workers, but also churns my stomach as well.
Its no surprise that after the death of Ona and his son, Jurgis completely loses all direction in his life, and eventually turns into the complete opposite of everything he was throughout the book by joining labor unions. A little convenient that a socialist rally is where his life starts to come together again, but after four hundred pages of unending misery, I’ll take whatever ray of hope Sinclair throws my way!