Upton Sinclair, in his novel The Jungle, explores the lives and work of immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry in Chicago in the early twentieth century. Sinclair's focus on labor unions in the novel might give the impression that the workers have power to shape their lives and working conditions, but in fact the author believes that unions are ineffective and corrupt and the problems of the workers go much deeper. This study will examine how Sinclair shows the immigrant community as relatively powerless in the face of the corrupt, capitalist and oppressive slaughterhouse industry, and how unions are a part of that problem rather than a solution. He concludes that the only real hope for the people is doing away with capitalism and replacing it with socialism.
The central focus of Sinclair's book is the great suffering of the immigrant workers and their families. He uses that focus to bring attention to their plight as well as to show that radical changes to the entire economic system will be necessary to correct the situation. Sinclair portrays the struggle between the workers and the owners as one between the overpowering evil forces of the capitalist owners and the overpowered and helpless workers representing goodness:
So Jurgis said that he understood it; and yet it was really pitiful, for the struggle was so unfair---some had so much of the advantage! Here he was, for instance, vowing upon his knees that he would save Ona from harm, and only a week later she was suffering atrociously, and from the blow of an enemy that he could not possibly have thwarted (Sinclair 74).
Certainly the workers fight back now and again, as individuals and as members of the struggling union, but for Sinclair the workers will never triumph because the forces of evil are far greater than the forces of good. The game itself must be changed, from capitalism to socialism, if workers are ever to find real justice.
Sinclair's book a...