Published in 1904 by socialist-minded journalist Upton Sinclair, The Jungle follows Lithuanian migrant worker Jurgis Rudkus as he struggles to make a living in 19th century Chicago. The book’s central theme is the way in which those on the bottom rungs of the labour ladder are swallowed by the capitalist machine, drawing instant comparisons with Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists published a decade later.
But it is the brutal realism of the depictions of the Chicago meat industry that have left a profound effect on many readers. Rudkus initially works in the slaughterhouses of Packingtown, helping to operate the machinery that sends cattle en masse irrevocably to their end. The power of the descriptions of these mechanisms – themselves mirroring the callous progress of their capitalist creators – has turned more than a few stomachs over the years, and even turned some towards a complete lifestyle change.
Writing on the Barnes and Noble blog, Lauren Passell describes the impact of the book on her reading group, even a century after it was first published;
“When my book club read The Jungle a few months ago,” Passell writes, “membership dropped drastically. People said they couldn’t handle reading about the nastiness of the meat industry, even though the meat industry in question existed more than 100 years ago.”
Have any other books provoked such a drastic lifestyle change in you? Let me know!
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