American history as a radical and revolutionary society. Specifically, it will discuss the works of "The Jungle," by Upton Sinclair, and "Coming of Age in Mississippi," by Anne Moody. Radical reform and revolutionary ideas are at the very foundation of our freedom in America, and this tradition of freedom of speech and rebellion has continued from 1865 onward in our society. There has always been dissention and disagreement in our history, however, our freedom gives us the right to disagree, rebel, revolt, and share our radical ideas - which often lead to reform, understanding, and a better life for all Americans.
In 1865, the nation had just lived through a Civil War that divided the nation, families, and races. Now, America was ready to move on, but there were still issues dividing the nation - issues that would continue to foster revolution and radicalism, and bring out the best and worst in the people of the United States.
After the Civil War, "Reconstruction" began in the South, and Northerners, called "carpetbaggers," swarmed in. Most of them hoped to take advantage of the South's surrender and weakness, while furthering their own moneymaking goals. The politicians and carpetbaggers were only interested in making money, and corruption flourished. All this did was create animosity in the South. The beaten southerners blamed the newly freed blacks for their troubles, and if the blacks had it bad before the Civil War, it was no better after. They still worked for meager or no wages, while living in run-down shacks on the plantations of their former owners. Only now, they had to fend for themselves, and many of them had no idea how to take care of themselves, or earn a living. Persecution of blacks has continued in the South since the Civil War, eventually leading up to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
After the Civil War, business got back on track, and some of the first businesses to expand across the nation were the railroads. With the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, travel from one side of the country to another was available to those who could afford the ticket. Immigrants who could afford to ride the train no longer had to spend months traveling over the Oregon or California Trails to the west coast; they could travel there in a matter of days. The railroads opened up the country to colonization. They also opened up the opportunities for business to trade nationally instead of just locally. In addition, they opened up communication throughout the country. The radical ideas of the miners and railroad men who formed some of the first labor unions in America could travel as quickly as the passengers, and so change came to the parts of the western U.S. that had been quite isolated before the railroads. The railroads brought great opportunity for change, for trade, and for communication.
The railroads helped turn America into a more industrialized nation, which turned into our own Industrial Revolution. The railroads could move goods around the country quickly and efficiently. No longer did the meatpacking houses and steel mills need to be located near the natural resources. They could be located near large metropolitan areas, where there were more people, and more resources to run them, and the raw materials could be shipped to them via the railroads. The great cities of America really began to grow and prosper, bringing people from the rural areas into the cities for jobs. Areas like Chicago, which was a major railway hub, became hearts of industry, with thousands of factories, warehouses, and mills working round the clock to keep up with the demand for goods and building materials. The modern skyscraper was born in Chicago, partly because of the easily available building materials - such as steel and iron - that were necessary for taller buildings and readily available in the area.
Now, there were more jobs available in the cities, and more people to fill them, so wages could be lower, too. Upton Sinclair wrote about this time with enormous detail and understanding in his novel "The Jungle," published in 1906.
The line of the buildings stood clear-cut and black against the sky; here and there out of the mass rose the great chimneys, with the river of smoke streaming away to the end of the world. It was a study in colors now, this smoke; in the sunset light it was black and brown and gray and purple. All the sordid suggestions of the place were gone -- in the twilight it was a vision of power. To the two who stood watching while the darkness swallowed it up, it seemed a dream of wonder, with its tale of human energy, of things being done, of employment for thousands upon thousands of men, of opportunity and freedom, of life and love and joy. When they came away, arm in arm, Jurgis was saying, "To-morrow I shall go there and get a job!" (Sinclair 33-34).
The Industrial Revolution created great prosperity and wealth in the country, but it also created the working-class poor. People worked in the factories and steel mills for low wages and long hours. The "sweatshops" of the garment industry employed women and children at substandard wages, working them 12 or more hours a day. They had little time for any type of family life, and they could barely survive on the wages they were paid. The owners were getting richer, and the workers were barely getting by. This created unrest and unhappiness. The people were ripe for unions, and the unions formed to help them. Initially, the trade and labor unions were not meant to be violent, but when companies would not negotiate with the unions, the laborers went out on strike, and often things got ugly. Many of the unions helped their members gain much better working conditions and wages. Some others split into revolutionary Socialist organizations, which spread their word around the country, and gained wide followings.
During and after the Industrial Revolution, America really began to change. The rich were getting richer, and the poor were not getting anywhere. This is why Socialism became so attractive to many people. It did not seem fair that so few had so much, while so many had so little. There was no real "middle-class" during this time, most of the people were either very wealthy, or very poor. People began to revolt; even the farmers had their own revolt. They embraced Populism, (another form of Socialism), and felt they were not receiving enough remuneration for their hard work in the fields. They also felt the gold standard, popular with the rich dealers on Wall Street, would eventually enslave the nation, along with the farmers, giving the Wall Street money brokers all the power. It was during this time author Upton Sinclair wrote his powerful and classic novel "The Jungle," which embraced Socialism while recounting the horrors of the meatpacking business in Chicago at the turn of the century.
There were men who worked in the cooking-rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply was renewed every hour. There were the beefluggers, who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; a fearful kind of work, that began at four o'clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years. There were those who worked in the chilling-rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time-limit that a man could work in the chilling-rooms was said to be five years (Sinclair 116-117).
It is no wonder the people who worked in these conditions became radical revolutionaries. They lost family members, limbs, and their health, and they were out of a job, with no way to support themselves. While some compassionate owners were open to the unions, most were not, and the only thing the unions could do was strike. The union members became Socialists because they were angry that the owners and stockholders were getting wealthy off the workers labor, and all the workers got was poverty. It was a terrible situation, and unfortunately, radical ideas seemed the only thing that would change it. The unions gradually obtained better working conditions, and people like Upton Sinclair, literate Socialists who were appalled at the working conditions in the country, spoke out and brought about change. "The Jungle," with its graphic descriptions of the world of the Chicago meatpacking plants, helped create the first Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. After the book was published the public made an outcry against the practices of the meatpackers, such as skimming off the fat and filth from "Bubbly Creek," and making edible lard from the dregs poured out from the packing plants (Sinclair 112). The public was revolted by the meatpacking industry practices, and so they rebelled, spoke out, and created change.