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The Jungle
The Jungle
THE JUNGLE, by Upton Sinclair
THE JUNGLE (1906), by Upton Sinclair, is one of the most socially influential books in the history of American literature, fiction or nonfiction. Sinclair wrote the novel after months spent living among and researching the employment conditions of workers in Chicago's meatpacking industry. The story focuses on Jurgis Rudkus, leader of a family of Lithuanian immigrants, who holds a series of jobs in and around the stockyards. This is no character study, however, but an exposŽ, with only a thin veneer of dramatic invention. With documentary exactitude, Sinclair describes the terrible working conditions and inveterate corruption of the meat industry; the workers' lack of economic security, decent housing, and even the provision of clean water and operable sewage essential to basic hygiene. And, vividly, there are images of vermin scampering amid mounds of meat destined for America's dining tables, fancy sausages fabricated out of rotting beef. It was with this portrait of the utter absence of food safety standards that the book had its most immediate impact: within six months of its publication, the federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act were passed and signed into law. Though its literary virtues are now seen as modest at best, this novel, with its undisguised political agenda, remains one of the most powerful examples of America's "muckraking" tradition of investigative journalism.

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The American Novel