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The conversion of Jurgis to socialism, at the end of the book, was really impossible after his soul had been "murdered," as one was told, and the story of his life was quite unreal when, after the death of his wife and his child, he became a hobo, a scab, and a crook. He was as unreal, in fact, as his friend Duane, the fancy man, or the young millionaire who invites him to his house in Chicago, a figure of pure melodrama in which Sinclair reverted to his early pulp-writing. Sinclair's characters, as a rule, were puppets.
Van Wyck Brooks, The Confident Years, 1953.
Jurgis does not have enough inner life to make his final conversion credible. Even in its powerful early chapters, the book demands a surprisingly narrow range of emotion from the reader. The more the characters are trapped by the system, they are transformed from agents to mere victims, and the principal feeling asked of us is pity- one of the most dehumanizing of all emotions, since it turns people into objects of our compassion rather than subjects in their own right.
This somewhat stunted humanity prevents The Jungle from being one of the truly great novels of city life, however accurate its social and economic framework may be.
Morris Dickstein, "Introduction," to The Jungle, 1981.
The "conversion" pattern of The Jungle has been attacked as permitting too easy a dramatic solution; however... it should be noted that in The Jungle Sinclair carefully prepares such an outcome by conducting Jurgis through all the circles of the workers' inferno and by attempting to show that no other savior except Socialism exists. Perhaps a more valid objection to the book is Sinclair's failure to realize his characters as "living" persons.... They gradually lose their individuality.... Yet paradoxically, the force and passion of the book are such that they finally do come to stand for the masses themselves, for all the faceless ones to whom things are done. Hardly individuals, they nevertheless collectively achieve symbolic status.
Walter B. Rideout, The Radical Novel in the United States, 1900-1954, 1956.
THE USE OF PROPAGANDA
The question is... whether the agitprop [agitation and propaganda for socialism] in The Jungle damaged this novel as form and as narrative, and the answer must be affirmative. The declamatory final chapter... is uplifting but it is also artificial, an arbitrary re-channelling of the narrative flow, a piece of rhetoric instead of a logical continuation of the story, and throughout most of the book the woes piled upon Jurgis and his family are so concentrated as to assault the imagination. However, this damage is too slight to spoil the complete effect. The Jungle, with an argument now out of date, remains one of the most heartrending accounts in fiction of what ignorant and helpless human beings have endured.
Grant C. Knight, The Strenuous Age in American Literature, 1954.
A STUDY OF ECONOMICS
There are two general approaches which Sinclair makes in all [his] novels. One is a close, documented study of the working of some specific economic mechanism; the other is a charge of general conspiracy for the maintenance and extension of privilege on the part of the beneficiaries of the system. The Jungle is relatively successful because it leans heavily on the former technique, though the charge of conspiracy is implicit throughout.
George J.Becker, "Upton Sinclair: Quixote in a Flivver," College English 21, 1959.
"Nothing about [Sinclair] has done more to make him an arresting novelist than his conviction that mankind has not yet reached its peak, as the pessimists think; and that the current stage of civilization, with all that is unendurable about it, need last no longer than till the moment when mankind determines that it need no longer endure. He speaks as a Socialist who has dug up a multitude of economic facts and can present them with appalling force; he speaks as a poet sustained by visions and generous hopes.
Carl Van Doren, Contemporary American Novelists, 1900-1920, 1922.
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Murray Bromberg, Principal
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts