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2 Works on Early 20th Century Chicago

This study will examine and compare two works, one fictional and the other historical, on early 20th century Chicago when it was heavily populated with immigrant workers and thoroughly dominated by the meatpacking industry. The two books are Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Robert A. Slayton's Back of the Yards: The Making of a Local Democracy. The study will primarily argue that most of the major differences between the two works are the result of the clashing perspectives and motivations of the two authors.

The approach of the historian Slayton differs significantly from the approach of the novelist Sinclair. Slayton, with his reliance on oral history, aims to paint (or to let the people themselves paint), as accurately as possible, a comprehensive picture of the social, economic and political realities of the immigrant life in Chicago in the early 20th century. He claims to have no political, social or economic doctrine or program to promote, and wants instead to be objective as possible and to give credit where credit is due. Slayton finds, for example, that democracy is a durable commodity even in an oppressive environment, and that the immigrant community is capable of generating ways to organize and express its power in dealing with that oppressive environment. However, it might be argued that Slayton has a bias in favor of the "American Dream" and therefore finds "the making of a local democracy" where little more than mere survival is taking place. Perhaps such a bias leads him to conclude that the immigrants had more power than they actually had.

On the other hand, there is no doubt whatsoever about Sinclair's biases. He has a very definite perspective which he wants to impose on his story and on the reader. He portrays the immigrant community as effectively powerless in the face of the corrupt, capitalist and oppressive slaughterhouse industry, and he concludes, however ineffectively, that the only hope for the peo...

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2 Works on Early 20th Century Chicago. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:50, May 22, 2019, from