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Essay on The Role Of Child Labor In Upton Sinclairs The Jungle

The early twentieth century was a ferocious time, though we can’t immediately think of a time in American history that has been peaceful. Upton Sinclair, in his novel, The Jungle, an expose of the meatpacking industry, became an enormous bestseller translated into seventeen languages within weeks of its publication in 1906. But while The Jungle has long been associated with food production, the book is actually a much broader critique of early twentieth-century business and labor practices in the rapidly growing cities of the United States.

The Jungle is the story of Jurgis Rudkus and his family, Lithuanian mmigrants who come to America to work in the meatpacking plants of Chicago. Their story is a story of hardship. They face enormous difficulties: harsh and dangerous working conditions, poverty and starvation, unjust businessmen who take their money, and corrupt politicians who create laws that allow all of this to happen. The story follows the hardships of Jurgis and his family and the transformation that Jurgis undergoes when he accepts the new political and economic revolution of socialism.

By the time The Jungle was published at the turn of the century, the massive flow of poorer European immigrants into the United States over the previous half-century had changed the demographics of American cities. Many of these immigrants lived in overcrowded, run-down tenement buildings with no access to clean water or proper sewage systems. Having come to America looking for work opportunities, the immigrants provided a cheap source of labor for American factories and businesses.

As Sinclair, a self-proclaimed socialist, saw it, millionaire businessmen were building up huge fortunes by exploiting their immigrant workers. One major critique for struggles between rich and poor was the rapidly expanding industrial center we all know as Chicago. In 1854, the population of Chicago was 55,000; by 1898, less than fifty years later, that number had grown thirty times over, to nearly 1,700,000 (according to Fairfield. edu).

As the major city lying between the Midwest and the ports and big cities of the East Coast, Chicago became the center of both transcontinental railway lines and the meatpacking industry. Of course, the flip side of all of this rapid city growth were huge slums housing the people who worked in the factories. Life in these slums was absolutely awful. And it’s this terrible quality of life that The Jungle sets out to Chicago becomes a useful backdrop to Sinclair’s story of a Lithuanian immigrant family struggling to adapt to their new lives in the United States precisely because Chicago was a city of such extremes.

Down by Lake Michigan, you can find beautiful towers of stone and steel, but, near the meatpacking plants, there is no drainage for sewage. There had been serious strikes in the stockyards in 1894 and 1904 (according to chicagohs. org), but it took Sinclair’s fictional look at life in the slums to personalize the struggle of workers to get Sinclair wrote The Jungle to promote a very specific socialist agenda. The whole point of this look at working conditions in Chicago’s slums is to make you want to organize with other workers in support of the socialist cause.

But pretty much no one read The Jungle to find out about the plight of the working man in America. Sinclair got lots of positive press about his socialist message from fellow socialists and progressives.. But most people who read the book either did not care about or actively disapproved of Jurgis Rudkus’s conversion to the socialist cause. What mattered to them, and what made document. better treatment. the novel a bestseller, was the absolutely disgusting, sickening escriptions of what goes on in meatpacking factories.

From the use of diseased cattle as sausage meat to the processing of people who fall into rendering tanks as lard and fertilizer, it’s fair to say that the nation was revolted to learn what actually went into their canned beef and processed hams. President Teddy Roosevelt scoffed at Sinclair’s socialist idealism, but he also wrote personally to Sinclair to promise that there would be an investigation of poor sanitation and hygiene inside meatpacking plants (according to teachingamericanhistory. org). Further, Roosevelt kept his word: it was partly public outcry over

The Jungle that led to the passage of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, the precursor to today’s Food and Drug Administration (according to fda. gov). So finally, the United States had federal control over what could go into meat products and what had to stay out of them. The Gilded Age The Jungle is about the corruption of the American meatpacking industry during the Gilded Age. It features poverty, the absence of social programs, unpleasant living and working conditions, and hopelessness that’s widespread among the lower classes of society, while the upper classes are corrupted.

Sinclair had spent seven weeks in Chicago researching through ersonal experience the nature of labor, gives a firsthand account of many aspects of the life of labor in the Gilded Age, including examples of child labor. He describes the practices of children working in factories and children going into the city to sell newspapers to help support their family. “little Stanislovas” in The Jungle depicts the horrid nature of child factory labor. Stanislovas is packed off to a factory to help his family pay rent on the house.

He is firstly taken to a priest to obtain a certificate “to the effect that he was two years older The story of than he was” to avoid conflict with the “law” on minimum orking age. Stanislovas, upon arrival at the factory entrance, is eagerly ushered into the factory and given a task: “To attend to [the machinery].. and fill several hundred cans of lard per hour, there were necessary two human creatures, one of whom knew how to place an empty lard can on a certain spot every few seconds, and the other of whom knew how to take a full lard can off a certain spot every few seconds and set it upon a tray… nd so was decided the place in the universe of little Stanislovas, and his destiny till the end of his days. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, it was fated that he should tand upon a certain square foot of floor.. making never a motion and thinking never a thought, save for the setting of lard cans. ” (26) This quote from The Jungle illustrates the monotony and tiresome nature of child factory labor and the effects of such labor on a child.

Stanislovas is reduced to a piece of machinery, repeating motions and cycles without end, becoming forever lodged in the machine, “destined” to remain a part of the factory. His childhood experiences and elementary education are replaced with mindless work, holding him back from opportunities to grow and develop as a person. Sinclair also escribes various conditions under which Stanislovas must work: “In summer the stench of the warm lard would be nauseating, and in winter the cans would all but freeze to his naked little fingers in the unheated cellar.

And for this, at the end of the week, he would carry home three dollars to his family, being his pay at the rate of five cents per hour-just about his proper share of the total earnings of the million and three-quarters of children who are now engaged in earning their livings in the United States. ” (27) Sinclair communicates the unrelenting harshness of factory conditions and the excessively meager salary allotted to hildren utilized in the labor force. He also states that almost 2 million children were employed in such labor during the Gilded Age in America.

Child factory labor in the Gilded Age, as described in The Jungle, and depicted in various photographs from the time, stunted the physical and mental growth of children and caused a deterioration of their lives. Conditions of labor were inhumane and neglected, further contributing to the fleecing of the children’s health and growth. wanted to take up the workers’ cause by writing an expose of the brutal conditions they endured. These conditions were the esult of a few decades of rapid changes in food manufacturing in the late nineteenth century.

Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, Chicago’s various, scattered livestock markets consolidated into one large market, the Union Stock Yard, on the South Side. This market was uniquely well situated to benefit from changes taking place across the nation: During the 1870s and 1880s, the United States wrested new territory from American Indians west of the Mississippi. Railroads extended their reach throughout the West, allowing farmers and ranchers both to settle new lands and to ship their cattle, sheep, and ogs to national markets.

Chicago became the transfer point where the agricultural produce of the West reached buyers for consumer markets in the East. With the consolidation of the stockyard, the work of processing meat itself changed dramatically. Meatpacking was one of the first industries to implement modern, “rational” production methods. As historian James R. Barrett explains, into the 1880s, butchers were skilled, well-paid craftsmen. Technological advances in refrigeration and preservation allowed entrepreneurs like Philip Armour and Gustavus Swift to turn butchering into a large-scale

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