The English language section of our library doesn't really have many fun, girly-books to read, so my latest selections have been a bit more literature-y than I would normally pick. Last week I read Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" in a day and a half, which was quite good. Then I moved onto Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."
Just finished reading this book and all I can say is WOW. All I knew about it when I picked it off the shelf at the library was that it was the book that exposed the corruption and filthy conditions of the Chicago meatpacking industry at the turn of the century. However, it's really much more than that -- it's the story of an immigrant family who comes to the US looking for the better life that they've been told about, only to find that they become cogs in the larger machine of corruption in all areas of Chicago society. The family struggles through some of the most unimaginable situations, as most immigrants to the US did at that time.
What baffles me the most about the book is the many parallels it has to present day society! They say that history repeats itself, and there is no doubt that this is the case today. Some examples:
- The immigrant family is taken advantage of by a predatory lending scheme that promises them a "new" home for $300 down and $12/month, only to find out that the home is indeed not new and there are other hidden fees and costs that they must pay (remind you of the current housing situation with people with bad mortgages?)
- The book discusses many examples of corruption on behalf of the Meat Trust, the Oil Trust, the Steel Trust, the Rail Trust, which operate in all areas of life by bribing the police and politicians, buying votes, etc. (Uhhh, can we say the current banking situation and other corporations that have been exposed for corruption?)
- Things being put into food that are unfit for human consumption (Anyone who has read "Fast Food Nation" or seen "Food, Inc." can attest to this, in addition to all the chemicals and non-food stuffs that are listed on product labels today).
- The way the meatpackers take advantage of the workers by paying low wages and the lack of rights workers had during that time. (Granted, a lot of legislation has passed since then to create the 40 hour work week and to prevent child labor, but I can see parallels to this when I think about corporations who've taken away employee's pensions and done other backhanded things at the expense of their workers [Enron, the auto industry, the airline industry...])
And at the end, do you know what the main character concludes to be the solution to his woes and the woes of all of his fellow workers?? SOCIALISM! Hmm.....
After reading it I feel that it should be required for all US history students!