The Rudkus family arrived from Lithuania to find Chicago as a city in which justice and honor, women’s bodies and men’s souls, were for sale in the marketplace, and human beings writhed and fought and fell upon each other like wolves in the pit, in which lusts were raging fires, and men were fuel, and humanity was festering and stewing and wallowing in its own corruption. (Pg.165) The city, during the time span of the novel, was truly a jungle-like society in which Upton Sinclair found much fault and great room for improvement. Sinclair perceived the problem in American society to be the reign of capitalism. In The Jungle, he presented the reader with the Rudkus family; who encountered a great deal of strife and anguish, through which the evils of American capitalism were portrayed. Upton Sinclair strongly believed in the power of the Socialist party as means of reform, so that the working class would finally have a fair chance of survival against the harsh realms of society. By havocking America’s supposed capitalist induced problems upon Jurgis and his family, Upton Sinclair used The Jungle as means of socialist promotional propaganda.
The Rudkus family met myriads of horrific occurrences during their struggle in Chicago. The time when the family came to the United States was a period of appalling conditions for the working class. At this phase of history there were practically no workplace safety regulations at all. Employers were free to dictate work conditions as they saw fit for their own personal welfare. Nor were there social safety nets such as workman’s compensation, welfare, or unemployment insurance. Also, if a person was seriously injured on the job to the point that he was prevented from working, he was simply out of work without any tolerance of the injured inquiring of his job being held during recovery. Courts at this time were solidly pro-business, and not receptive to worker’s claims of employer responsibility for workplace accidents.
Jurgis and his family were faced with many predicaments related to these poor surroundings and circumstances. The family hastily saw that they must enter the competition forced upon them in a social Darwinist fashion. When he first arrived in Packingtown, Jurgis found work quickly in the meat packing industry because of his strong, young stature. As the years went by, however, and he grew plagued with injuries and financial troubles, Jurgis found work to be evermore difficult to obtain and hold. The social system cracked down on the family and offered nowhere for the Rudkus’ to turn for help.
Not only did the family stumble upon difficulties in their workplaces, but in basic living conditions as well. Jurgis and his family witnessed such atrocities, as baby Antanas tragically drowning in the unpaved roads, devastating financial loss through misinformation concerning the purchase and custody of their house, and unsanitary meat packed and sold for regular consumption.
Such incredible pandemonium was involved with virtually all of the Rudkus family’s daily activities and never ceased to cause anxiety and worry in their overburdened lives. This desolation drove family members to radical attempts at survival and hope for some means of liberation from their atrocious new lives in America. At first, Jurgis ran away from it all, pursuing the life of a free man setting off cross-country. Marija turned to prostitution, after Jurgis fled from them, as means of making end meat for the family. Ona was convinced that she would cause the family’s demise without her cooperation in Conner’s crude sexual demands. Children of the family set out to work instead of gaining the vital education that they were so deserving and needy of. Also, the elderly Dede Antanas set off to work despite his weak physical state.
Jurgis grew steadily more tired as he aged in experience and years. He once thought to himself in a state of great misfortune and suffering, It is a case of us or the other fellow. In these realms and others, nothing is counted but brutal might, an order devised by those who possessed it for the subjugation of those who did not. (Pg.229) Luckily, Jurgis found himself in the territory of a Socialist convention. He was delightfully enlightened with the ideas the speaker conveyed to Jurgis in his energetic and compelling presentation. The socialist movement seemed to provide answers for practically all of the problems which Jurgis and his family had faced and struggled against in their strife for survival in America.
The socialists saw two major problems forced upon humanity that were caused by capitalist America. These were greed and ruthless competition. Because society had its base in money and class, people did anything in their power to overcome another in order to survive in the harshness of the world. The socialist movement claimed it could put an end to this bitter competition and greed by placing the welfare of the people as the primary concern in the hands of their government. Emphasis would be placed on the well being of the people, not the money which they each individually possessed. Working conditions, therefore, would be of initial concern. Socialism would obliterate all class boundaries, so that the rich could no longer manipulate the working class to gain profit. According to Sinclair, the socialist movement would require a complete restructuring of society as it was known. In theory, socialism advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, and property by the society as a whole, and their administration and distribution in the interests of all. The socialist party pushed for a society in which everything is common ground and all people are equal with no regards to class or financial standing. The socialists said they would solve all of society’s nagging problems and issues.
Socialism seemed to be the perfect approach for a quick and effective solution for America’s tribulations. This type of government, however, had many drawbacks, which ultimately halted the incline of this movement in American society. The socialist movement aimed to limit individuality, in that everyone would be equal no matter what his background or work ethic. This idea upset Americans to a great extent. People opposed to the socialist party were frightened that this total equality would take away many of the liberties and freedoms which the United States prides itself in. The socialist party is a brother of communism, a type of government that seems ideal on paper but has yet to beneficially effect society. The Rudkus family is beleaguered by incredibly negative misfortune, despite their hard work and efforts to make an honest living. It is, therefore, evident why Jurgis sees so much blighted energy emerging from socialism and its claims to a newfound glory for America.
Socialism was a movement that had many great successors. Actions such as those enacted by reformists such as the Knights of Labor, the Progressives, and the Populists all had pertinent ideas that benefited American society. The Knights of Labor had superior qualities, which included their open membership to all kinds of people, the cooperative system, and the concept of producers verses non-producers. The Populists also focused on the clash between producers and non-producers. The ideals of reform through government, the banishment of laissez faire, and government regulation of mail, railroads, and telephones also were potent topics to reform towards in the People’s Party. Ideally, the Knight of Labor and the People’s Party with their strong ideas should have combined organizations with the Progressives, if it were not for the dates of enactment for each group. The Progressives ideas of temperance, settlement houses, anti-trust acts, and the domestication of politics were also very worthwhile causes to conquer along the road to social reform. If all of these three movements with their own best points for reform were to act together, America may have held a faster and more effective path of transformation and healing.
The demoralizing concerns that faced America had no easy resolution. The Rudkus family suffered through horrifying turmoil to barely survive in the country, which they once held in relation to great glory and prosperity. The American dream of freedom and success were crushed under the many downfalls of capitalism during the Gilded Age. Socialism, with its theoretically perfect form of government and its promises of equality and good life for all seemed to hold a bright future for the meagerly working class. This seemingly ideal form of reform found in socialism did not hold the best answer. The path of recovery would not come as easily as Upton Sinclair had rallied for in The Jungle.