A review of this — 7 years ago
Really an interesting work. For some reason I had always had it in my head, from hearing about this book in history classes over the years, that it was a nonfiction expose work on food sanitation.
Of course, the meatpacking aspect of the novel is really what got all of the attention in this book, but embedded in this fictional-based-on-reality novel is a very determined treatise, which plays on both emotion and reason in order to attempt a persuasive argument for the enactment of Socialist values in a corrupt Capitalist culture.
Following the main character, Jurgis, through the course of his arrival, devastation, corruption and conversion in the Packingtown district of Chicago was a very emotional experience. (Just when you think things can’t get any worse, there comes something ten times more horrible.) I think the drama of Jurgis’ story may be enough to turn some people off (the events seem quite over-the-top at times, with every imaginable horror happening to this one man), as it feels a little propogandist at times. Of course, as I mention above, this is a treatise, and Sinclair makes full use of the story to drive his political points home.
Ultimately, the story is really one about humanity as much as about politics, and Sinclair’s journalistic style of writing is clear, clean and often quite evocative. I’ve read many many books, but this was one of the first books that ever made me cry (an achingly tender scene around Christmas involving a cheap Valentine card).
If you open yourself up to the story, it can be a very moving experience, since at some level, there is much truth to the story of daily life that Sinclair paints, and the struggles of recent immigrants to survive and thrive in an alien environment (which often fails to even recognize their humanity) were/are very real. It’s an interesting perspective on the history of our country, as well as a very good story.
A suggested read.