The Jungle

The Jungle is a muckraking novel written in 1906 by Upton Sinclair (1868-1978).

Sinclair, born in Maryland and raised in a working-class family, took college classes at Columbia University before becoming a professional writer. He spent almost two months laboring alongside and covertly observing the lives of packinghouse operatives. The Jungle was based upon his findings.  

The book tells a story of the Rudkus family, immigrants from Bohemia struggling to survive in the stockyards of Chicago. The family members endured dashed hopes, the loss of innocence, horrific working and living conditions, deceitful authorities, dire poverty, physical injuries, and deaths. Sinclair, a Socialist, blamed all their travails on the evils of capitalism. The novel became famous chiefly for its expose of the meatpacking plants. Sinclair sent a copy of his book to President Theodore Roosevelt. Spurred partially but not wholly by Sinclair’s bestseller, Roosevelt had the abattoirs investigated. Federal inspectors found unsanitary conditions, just as The Jungle portrayed.

Not long after the publication of The Jungle, Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Meat Inspection Act of the same year. Sinclair felt that his anti-capitalist message was never truly heard, but complained that readers ignored the plight of the immigrant family and reacted with aversion to the thought of tainted meat. "I aimed at the public's heart,” Sinclair later wrote, “and by accident hit its stomach."