Published in 1906, The Jungle was supposed to be investigative journalist Upton Sinclair’s expose about the terrible treatment that new immigrants received when they came to the United States. The Rudkus family, having recently come to America from Lithuania, has a dream of settling in Chicago, while Jugdus, the head of the family, supports the rest of them. The whole family has been working to save up to buy a house in their new country. Unfortunately, they get swindled left and right – by Americans and immigrants slightly wiser than they are – and they end up penniless. The family lives in slum conditions, and Jugdus’ wife dies in childbirth because the family can’t afford a doctor; soon after, Jugdus’ young son drowns in the mud outside their home. At the end, Jugdus is at a socialist rally, which, according to Sinclair, is the only movement that will safeguard the dignity of all.
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The Jungle is historically significant on several fronts. First, it does show the plight of the new immigrant in the early 1900’s. Without the protections of labor laws, occupational safety laws, and other safeguards that would come in the next few decades, factories in most industries were dangerous, filthy, and murderous to the increasingly young people who had to come and work in them, just to survive. The novel also threw a spotlight on the graft and corruption inside the meatpacking industry in Chicago, and it gave exposure to the new socialist movement that would send candidates up for President until after World War II. Sinclair’s novel made a difference by exposing the plight of the immigrants and the terrible working conditions faced by so many in the meat plants.