While reading Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, I couldn’t help but see the use of humans as a new technology. This human-machine was created by the immigrant population and everyone that worked in the meat-packing industry. This machine bled into political systems and economical systems, as well, which, apparently, go hand-in-hand in America. It’s very difficult to look at any political system without being confronted by the economical systems that lie hidden in the background. These systems influence lifestyles on grand scales and directly affect quality of life, of course, depending on which class you fall into. Hence, the reason why many believe the American government is not a democracy at all, but some form of capitalistic body. With this idea in mind, there’s a clear movement from thinking mechanically to create machines that will improve production to thinking mechanically so that larger societal systems can function properly and smoothly. The most obvious system present in the novel, which is the umbrella / larger system, is capitalism. Even in the novel, we see the corruption in government and its gluttony for profit when reading how the meat inspectors, and other government officials, were given money under the table to shut up or to act in favor of private interest.

Some smaller systems can be seen when looking at the unions, law enforcement/judicial, immigrant workers, and consumers. That gives us about 4 subsystems and 1 large system, but I am sure if we search deeper we could find many more systems in the novel. These systems are all interlinked with the hope of keeping the populace running like a clock, with each part of this big machine of civilization responsible for its own task. I bring up the clock because it is the perfect example of a conceptual framework for ideological systems, such as society – or shall I say democracy. Ideally, the clock reflects a machine that’s dependent on each of its parts, and there is a clock maker responsible for keeping it functional. In regards to political systems, the question is: Who or what represents the clock maker?  

            Moreover, in an economical system like the one presented in the novel, each person of society needs to be an expert at a specific trade. From the opening of the novel, the narrator describes characters by their occupations and their potential functions in the societal ‘clock.’ For example, when the narrator describes Jurgis, he states, “Jurgis could take up a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound quarter of beef and carry it into a car without a stagger, or even a thought” (6). When describing Marija, he states, “She works in a canning factory, and all day long she handles cans of beef that weigh fourteen pounds” (11); and when talking about Mikolas, “He is a beef-boner…” (14). But these occupations/potentials don’t last because the work-force in Durham can’t maintain their efficiencies due to their humanity. The machine is known for chewing you up and spitting you out when you can’t work efficiently, whether it’s because of age, or infirmities caused by the job itself. The characters in the novel are being treated like animals. The narrator writes, “It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly…” (36). After reading this, I couldn’t distinguish between the workers in the stockyards and the animals being slaughtered, who trusted their bosses so much, and were used for whatever they were worth, up to the last cent. What’s more telling is that “all that a mere man could do, it seemed to Jurgis, was to take a thing like this as he found it, and do as he was told; to be given a place in it and a share in its wonderful activities was a blessing to be grateful for…” (42) Hence, the system creates a need (money=survival) and a means to supply it (cheap labor) so there’s no escaping the abuse. “There was no place in it where a man counted for anything against a dollar” (59). In a way, I feel the abuse of the workers in the novel is worse than slavery because it’s masked behind a typical work ethos. The meat-packers work like anyone else, except they get paid chump-change. In the end, they’re “simply the worn-out parts of the great merciless packing-machine” (121).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email