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Historical Context of Sinclair’s View of Socialism

During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s hundreds of thousands of European immigrants migrated to the United States of America. They had aspirations of success, prosperity and their own conception of the American Dream. The majority of the immigrants believed that their lives would completely change for the better and the new world would bring nothing but happiness. Advertisements that appeared in Europe offered a bright future and economic stability to these naive and hopeful people.

Jobs with excellent wages and working conditions, prime safety, and other benefits seemed like a chance in a lifetime to these struggling foreigners. Little did these people know that what they would confront would be the complete antithesis of what they dreamed of. The enormous rush of European immigrants encountered a lack of jobs. Those who were lucky enough to find employment wound up in factories, steel mills, or in the meat packing industry.

Jurgis Rudkus was one of the disappointed immigrants, experiencing the horrendous conditions which laborers encountered Along with these nightmarish working conditions, they worked for nominal wages, inflexible and long hours, in an atmosphere where worker safety had no persuasion. Early on, there was no one for these immigrants to turn to, so many suffered immensely. Jurgis would later learn of worker unions and other groups to support the labor force, but the early years of his American life were filled, with sliced fingers, unemployment and overall a depressing and painful “new start”.

In his work, Sinclair has created Jurgis himself as the sort of malleable workhorse that the greedy capitalists needed to keep the money machine rolling, so to speak. Taking a passage from “The Jungle”, one can apparently see why Jurgis was, from the beginning, akin to a lamb, prime for slaughter: “Jurgis was like a boy, a boy from the country. He was the sort of man the bosses like to get hold of, the sort they make it a grievance they cannot get hold of. When he was told to go to a certain place, he would go there on the run.

When he had nothing to do for the moment, he would stand round fidgeting, dancing, with the overflow of energy that was in him. If he were working in a line of men, the line always moved too slowly for him, and you could pick him out by his impatience and restlessness” (Sinclair, 22). Sinclair’s portrayal of socialism in regards to the laborer is very appealing to a jobless, hungry, indigent man. In fairness, however, one should not get the false impression that the socialism that was depicted in “The Jungle” was without flaws. Sinclair’s vision of socialism, wasn’t as flawless and beneficial as it seemed.

Although it gave the workers some motivation to work, it was an attempt to marginalize the working class. One must not lose sight, in reading Sinclair’s words that in fact the Marxist theory of communism stemmed from the ideologies displayed by socialism. The masses of the population were controlled by a small elite. Sinclair was a believer in socialism, and Jurgis was a member of the party. But fortunately for today’s working force, the concept and potential threat of socialism was stifled before it could make a permanent mark of American society.

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