The Jungle, uncut, spotlights class oppression

Book Review

The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition By Upton Sinclair Sharp Press, 2003 Softcover, 352 pp., $12

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) was a prolific writer as well as a socialist. He authored 90 books. Without a doubt, Sinclair’s most famous work was “The Jungle,” a novel first published as a newspaper serial (1905) and later as a heavily censored book (1906).

“The Jungle” details the experiences of Jurgis Rudkos, a Lithuanian immigrant, his family, and the work and lives of persons in Chicago meatpacking district and its neighborhood, “Packingtown,” in the early 1900s. Sinclair wrote the book in 1904 while working as an investigative reporter for the Socialist Party newspaper, The Appeal to Reason.

Few people are aware that 1905 newspaper version of “The Jungle” and the 1906 book are significantly different versions of the same story. The newspaper serial had been well-received upon its initial publication. Sinclair, who lacked the resources to publish a book, sincerely desired that his work reach a far broader audience. He cut out nearly one-third of his story to make it acceptable for a capitalist publisher, Doubleday, Page Company.

This new publication contains the original uncensored 1905 newspaper version. It also contains a useful foreword by Earl A. Lee, and a detailed introduction with an analysis of the two versions of the novel by Kathleen DeGrave.

“The Jungle” has an important place in American history. Publication of the 1906 book led to widespread public outrage against the meatpacking industry. President Teddy Roosevelt, who read the book version, refused to believe it, but then learned that the Department of Agriculture had lied to him about conditions in Chicago. In fact, the department’s inspectors had been bribed.

The publishing company was so worried about a possible libel suit that it sent to Chicago its own private investigators, who confirmed the truth of Sinclair’s charges. The reaction to “The Jungle” led to passage of the first Pure Food and Drug laws in the U.S. – a significant reform. However, Sinclair is later reported to have said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach.”

Through the years, millions of readers have read the 1906 book version, not knowing how much was changed or missing. The new edition brings back the original version as published in 1905. People familiar with the work will see and feel the difference.

The original version of “The Jungle” is a novel that sees beyond a particular abuse in society to something much bigger. Sinclair did not mean to write a reformist work, but a revolutionary one.

Unfortunately, as DeGrave explains, “By eliminating a compassionate adjective, a gut-wrenching scene, or an explanation, Sinclair missed the reader’s heart.” She believes that Sinclair was “courageous” to write a truthful work about the working class at a time “when the capitalists had a free hand. But the courageous book was not the one published in 1906.”

DeGrave explains, for example, that “Cut from the 1905 version are passages that create sympathy for the immigrant worker; grimly detailed descriptions of disease and death; the reasons for alcoholism and prostitution among the workers; stories of cheating and lying among the businessmen; indictments of the rich, of the police, of the press.”

The 1906 book downplays the nature of class oppression. References to the wider system and its faults are cut out. As DeGrave notes, Sinclair was forced to realize “if he wanted the novel published at all, he would have to appear to restrict the problem to Chicago and the meatpacking industry.” Even the reform laws resulting from the 1906 version dealt with “adulteration of edible products, not the inhumane treatment of workers who process the products.”

This new uncensored version is a strong indictment of what capitalism has done to its many victims. If you have never read “The Jungle,” don’t waste your time on the 1906 censored version. Go right to the original, now available, at a reasonable price, and feel and experience the real message that Upton Sinclair so deeply desired to convey to his readers.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.