The Jungle (where there is no fun or games)

While the text itself is heavily wrought with scenes not for the faint of heart, one that was particularly striking is in the very beginning of chapter IV. On pg 43, when Jurgis is waiting to work at his new job, it describes the conditions of the killing floor he’s working on:

“He was provided with a stiff besom…and it was his place to follow down the line the man who drew out the smoking entrails from the carcass of the steer;…It was a sweltering day in July, and the place ran with steaming hot blood-one waded in it on the floor. The stench was almost overpowering, but to Jurgis it was nothing.”

The conditions of the first industrial institutions such as slaughterhouses were always told to us to be poor during our high school educations. One was mainly focused on, however, would be children being put to work or people being maimed with all the machinery. Eventually we’d be told about things like the Triangle Factory fire in 1911. The descriptions Sinclair uses are extremely vivid and gory. “Steaming hot blood” is certainly a descriptor I won’t soon forget, but the fact that you had to “wade” through it is that much more powerful. While these detailed scenes are violent, there is of course the other hideous side behind the novel. I now refer to the sentences following the aforementioned quote:

“His whole soul was dancing with joy– he was at work at last!! He was at work and earning money! All day long he was figuring to himself. He was paid the fabulous sum of seventeen and a half cents an hour; and as it proved a rush day and he worked until nearly seven o’clock in the evening, he went home to the family with the tidings he had earned…”

The fact that Jurgis is moved so despite his conditions attests to the effect of industrialization on factory workers. Despite wading through blood, is able to be extremely happy because of one single fact: he was making money. His ambitions and joys are reduced down to the fact that no matter what he’s able to make money. And why not be happy? With money he can provide for his family and be that much closer to his precious American Dream, but at what cost? Is his humanity being forsaken for the sake of earning money in his pursuit of the American Dream?

Despite the time period in which The Jungle is set, this idea of sacrifice for the sake of the American Dream is still an idea that’s active today. In the movie Fast Food Nation, party of the story involves a Mexican couple crossing the border in pursuit of this fabled American Dream. The husband ends up working in a slaughterhouse, where he is involved in a terrible accident and can no longer work as a result of his injuries and is essentially discarded as being useful (he also doesn’t get any benefits).

Below are some examples of slaughterhouses in the early 20th century (some images may be distrubing!)

Assembly line of sausages being stuffed.

Not sure what part of the process this was.

Possibly a killing floor. What's in the cart the man on the left is pushing, I wonder?

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