Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, illustrates the plight of immigrant workers in Chicago. Published in 1906, it also exposed the problems in the meat packing industry, helping to pass the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act the same year.
Photographs in this collection help readers of The Jungle to imagine what it would have been like to have been an immigrant and a laborer in Chicago in the first decade of the twentieth century. These images also reinforce the fact that Sinclair based his novel on contemporary realities and help to show how literature can reflect history.
The Jungle tells the story of the Rudkus family who came from Lithuania to find greater prosperity in the United States. Although a search on Lithuanian provides only one image, searches on other European nationalities, such as Polish, German, and Scandinavian, provide evidence that many immigrants like the Rudkus family came to Chicago in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Compare images reflecting ethnic traditions to Sinclair's description of the wedding with which he opens his novel.
- What does Sinclair's depiction of the wedding suggest about the role of ethnic traditions in the lives of immigrants?
- What do the photographs suggest about the significance of ethnic traditions?
Sinclair explains that Jurgis, the head of the Rudkus family, came to Chicago from the Lithuanian countryside. Like many immigrants to the United States, he had never seen a city before. Search on loop for images of one of the largest cities in the United States. Imagine what it would have been like to move from a rural home in Europe to a city like Chicago. Compare images of Chicago to Sinclair's account of the Rudkuses' arrival in the metropolis:
"...they stood staring down the vista of Dearborn Street, with its big black buildings towering in the distance, unable to realize that they had arrived, and why, when they said 'Chicago' people no longer pointed in some direction, but instead looked perplexed, or laughed, or went on without paying any attention. They were pitiable in their helplessness . . . For the whole of the first day they wandered about in the midst of deafening confusion, utterly lost; and it was only at night that, cowering in the doorway of a house, they were finally discovered and taken by a pliceman to the station. In the morning an interpreter was found, and they were taken and put upon a car, and taught a new word " 'stockyards.'"
From The Jungle.
The Jungle is perhaps best known for its descriptions of the Chicago stockyards. Search on stockyards for over 200 images, including documentation of the 1904 stockyards strike. Search on strike for more images that provide a context for Sinclair's depiction of the plight of laborers like Jurgis Rudkus.
- In The Jungle, what is the symbolic meaning of the hogs and cattle slaughtered in the stockyards?
- Do the photographs in this collection support Sinclair's symbolic message?
Formulate search terms to see if the collection includes images that compliment Sinclair's descriptions of immigrants' living conditions, of the bitter cold of a Chicago winter, or of saloons, alcoholism, and prostitution.
- According to his novel, why did Sinclair think that socialism was the way to solve the social problems of the early-twentieth century?
- What do the photographs in this collection suggest about how well Sinclair understood these problems?
- Based on your viewing of the collection's photographs, how authentic do you find Sinclair's depiction?
- Why do you think that The Jungle made such a large impact for social change?