It is widely recognized that life for the poor, working class — many of them new immigrants — in the urban centers of early 1900s America was pretty terrible. This week we started reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to experience this transitional time in our history. Known as the Progressive Era, it seemed as if we needed to touch the bottom of the swamp in order to propel ourselves forward to something better. However, our discussions yielded something concerning. We noticed that our own survival and success often come at the expense of someone else. So, just as our protagonist, Jurgis, can acknowledge the suffering of the animals at the meat packing plant — he still really needs the job.
After spending many weeks as an embedded reporter in the Chicago Stockyards, Upton Sinclair eventually wrote The Jungle to expose the plight of exploited workers he had personally seen and knew existed in other industrialized cities. However, upon publication, public outcry mostly centered around the unsanitary conditions and health violations in the meat packing plants. Sinclair’s reaction was a mix of dismay and humor when he proclaimed,”I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
Muckraking in the early 20th century reminded us of the flood of information available to us in our own, modern society, and we realized that the contextualization and analysis of information matters. But, progressive reform historically has been a way to strive with deeply rooted systems, so it makes sense that things like “citizen journalism” and most currently #MeToo should be heard.
Practicing Monopoly strategies like an Industrial-Capitalist Robber Baron . . .
Muckraking . . .
Tragedy leading to new safety legislation . . .
The Dream . . .
“One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe…. Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.”
— from The Jungle