The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, is the story of a family of Lithuanian immigrants working in Chicago's Packingtown district. First, I must warn you: this is not a happy book. But it gives us an honest representation of what life was like for meat-packing workers at the turn of the century. The protagonist, Jurgis Rudkus, and his young wife, Ona, move with their family to America. It is a land of hopes and dreams, where anyone can become rich--or so they think. But their work at Packingtown tells them a different story. It is a place where the life is slowly sapped out of workers until they are nothing but empty shells, and then they are cast aside to die while the packers replace them with fresher, stronger men. We watch as Jurgis's family sinks into ruin and one by one they are slowly overwhelmed by the harsh, never-ending circumstances that they are doomed to suffer in for the rest of their lives.
Like I said before, this is not a happy book. However, it isn't dull and boring either. It's quite interesting, and the reader soon becomes sympathetic toward the family's plight. This may be a novel, but at the time it was written, thousands of men, women, and children were suffering in the same way, and the book is a shocking reminder of this dark aspect of our history.
This book was assigned to me for history, and I think that it is a wonderful book to read if you are interested in this particular time. It covered many controversial topics from this period--from Socialism, dirty politics, and immigrants, to muckraking, the gap between the rich and the poor, and the revolutionary new industrial equipment that was making its way into our culture. I was a little worried that this would be a dull book, but that was not the case at all! I'd definitely recommend it to any fans of historical novels.