Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I was thinking about The Jungle the other day, as I was riding my bike down Green Street on my way to school. Green street is a really neat streat that is one block west of Halsted. It doesn't run for that long, maybe a mile or less, between Milwaukee and it cuts off at I believe Van Buren. Anyway, it has a lot of the new meat packing buildings and factories so it made me come back to The Jungle. In class we talked about how the characters felt really flat, cardboard cutouts etc. Despite this, and excluding the last 50 or so pages, it is still an enjoyable read, because I think what Sinclair does with the setting is really outstanding. As in Algren's Chicago: City on the Make, Sinclair takes a place and creates a character, rather than focusing on the conventional characterization of people. And although everything possible that is bad seems to happen to Jurgis, and it becomes almost and I hesitate to say comical, because none of what happens to him is in anyway funny, but I guess ironic in that sort of here we go again way. So although all these terrible things happen to Jurgis, what is really overwhelming and more powerful and touching than Jurgis' plight, is the scene Sinclair has created. Even though he says he aimed for the heart and hit the stomach, I think in a way The Jungle is still heartbreaking, but it is not through Jurgis or any of the characters that we find our heart breaking. For me at least, it is in the fact that such work conditions existed, and that people found it ok to treat other people that way. So when I ride my bike down Green Street and I see clean and positive working environments, I think back to what things were like 100 years ago, and how The Jungle and Sinclair were involved in helping end the bad days!