To be great writers, we must be avid readers. To be informed citizens of the world, we must read widely.
As part of my independent, ongoing education, I’m reading a few titles my teachers didn’t assign. One is The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Teachers mentioned the novel, but few readers in modern times seem to have read it. Initially published in 1905, Sinclair’s work exposed the filth of the meatpacking industry. As a result, The Jungle’s publication eventually led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration.
Today’s readers can see other reasons why this book is controversial. Sinclair was a socialist working in the muckraking tradition of investigative journalism. Some people doubted his depiction of various theses at the time.
However, the overall story rings true. A modern novelist could have penned this story except for a few details. News outlets say that most Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, and the characters in The Jungle are no exception. When one member of the large family loses a job, the entire household suffers. Children are put to work under challenging circumstances. None of the positions anyone holds is pleasant or sanitary. People from acquaintances to corporations are more than happy to rob them. At the same time, Sinclair lets the reader know that some of the characters’ significant problems stem from their own folly and flawed decisions.
As Christians, we are called to care about the poor, and this is one message that could be appropriate for us to convey in our books today. Those who want to write about the impoverished, or simply to understand more about these people, time, and place in history, would do well to read The Jungle.
What books did you miss in school? Of those you have read, which ones would you recommend?