Machines Instead of Trees
As soon as I turned sixteen and was eligible to receive an official job, I filled out an online application for a position at Walmart in hopes of gaining some necessary working experience. The process was short and simplistic as I was hired and fit into a fresh blue outfit in the matter of a few weeks. On my first day, I walked into the sliding doors of the massive retail store with a sense of exuberance at the prospect of earning my own money, despite the fact that it was 8 AM on a Saturday morning. However, I would soon find that my enthusiasm would not last for more than a few days.
The work turned out to be monotonous and tedious, forcing me to repeat the same task for hours on end. The situation was further exacerbated by the strictness of my manager, who would snap at the most subtle sign of insolence or incompetence (my co-workers and I secretly called her the Wicked Witch of Walmart or WWW, for short). After each day of monotony with little reward, I would return home, grumbling to myself and listening to Taylor Swift’s upbeat music to cheer myself up.
It was these negative sentiments towards work that led me to pick up Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a book that describes in great length the horrendous working conditions of the 1920’s. The entire story is one of sorrow and misery, revealing heart-wrenching grief with every turn of the page. The disastrous events that fall upon the main character, Jurgis, made my problems seem like trivial quibbles in comparison.
Inhumanity in the Workplace
Throughout the book, Upton Sinclair leaves no stone unturned, revealing every cruel reality of the United States during the 1920’s. He tells the story of Jurgis and Ona, a happy couple who has recently arrived in America with their family in seek of new riches but is left with heavy debt due to the expense of their marriage. Fully believing in the truth of the American Dream and capitalism, Jurgis vows to pay off the debt with work as he finds a job in a meatpacking factory. However, from the unsanitary placement of spoiled meat in packages for sale to the lack of worker rights and protection, evidence of corruption and immorality is evident in every aspect of the Chicago suburbs that they live in, Jurgis’s family struggles to stay afloat in a society of everlasting deception, fighting to maintain their resolve their to survive and keep their morality.
While reading the story, I had to get a tissue to wipe sentimental tear so many times that I eventually finished the book with a kleenex box at my side. Sinclair writes his characters with such great depth that readers are compelled to form deep connections with them. The amount of detail with which Sinclair describes the inhumane practices of bosses and the upper class in general evokes strong feelings of repulsion and astonishment. Readers will find themselves conflicted between anger towards the injustice of the situation and sympathy for the adversity Jurgis and his family have to face.
The issues the book addresses underscore the deep roots of the problem with capitalism that continues even today in some cases. I highly encourage anyone who wishes to have a more open mind on the American Dream or the basis that the country was founded on. Readers will finish the book with a much greater sense about the complexities of work and a question if the upper class who ran society back then was any better than the animals they slaughtered.
Daniel Yu is a high school student at Novi High School. His favorite classes are English and Psychology, enjoying to read and write in his free time. He hopes to pursue a degree dealing with Linguistics or Speaking.