The Use of Style to Craft an Argument: Upton Sinclair's the Jungle
"Sinclair uses language effectively, and in a variety of ways, to shape his characters and develop his themes" and thus effectively created a novel that outraged the public and created the beginnings of reform in American industry (Oatman 30). Upton Sinclair's most infamous novel, The Jungle, is a story of an immigrant worker forced into a society of extreme exploitation and disregard not only for workers conditions but also for the conditions of the products being made in the factories. Sinclair discusses one immigrants journey, as Jurgis comes in to the working system as an ignorant immigrant worker and nine is transformed into a person demanding social responsibility from the companies who care so little about their workers. In this context, Sinclair uses a number of stylistic devices in order to make his point clear. He uses very simple and direct language in order to appeal to the mass public, yet although sometimes uses language with great depth and wordiness in order to best explain the conditions of the characters and the work environment. Sinclair is a writer who uses grotesque imagery to create incredible metaphors in order to call the public to demand reform. It is in this style that made the novel so popular among the public at the time.
The major theme of the novel is a direct revolt against the cruel capitalism that was exploiting America's workforce at the time. According to the research "it's an unvarnished piece of propaganda for socialism and against the destructive form of capitalism that was practiced in Sinclair's day" (Oatman 30). The novel describes the extreme and horrid conditions of the working class at the turn-of-the-century here in the United States. Insidious thought to be seen as filled with progress and opportunity, Sinclair clearly shows the lower classes' sacrifices in order to make this dream come true for the rest of society. He uses the point-of-view of Jurgis, an immigrant who joins in the labor force of the meatpacking industry in Chicago. What he sees is hideous and horrifying, both to Jurgis and to the reader. In this chilling tale of exploitation and neglect, Sinclair "openly revealed the inhumane conditions of the Chicago stockyards and how the meatpacking industry operated, resulting in the passage of the pure food and drug laws within months after the books publication" (Arthur 1). His novel received instant acclaim in the public began demanding change and reform within meatpacking and other industries.
There are various aspects of style that emerge throughout the novel that help Sinclair make his argument. It is very clear that the style of the writing in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is meant for the common man. One report writes that "you know whose side he's on as soon as he read the books dedication: 'to the working men of America,'" (Oatman 30). It is a novel for the common public, both rich and poor. Sinclair makes sure to use thematic devices to ensure that even the poorest reader could understand his points. Thus, "Sinclair's style is simple and direct. He was not a 'literary writer', interested in using language in new or startling ways to advance the form of the novel" (Oatman 30). This direct style also helps him Inc. freeze the horror experienced by the reader as more and more exploitations are uncovered. According to the research, "his descriptions of the human costs are most gripping when he avoids sentiment in favor of flatly reported horror" (Olsson 1). There is a lack of pity that is meant to convey the reality of the situation. This more direct style helps the reader from becoming distracted by the plight of individual workers in order to see the larger issue at hand. This directness regarding topics that would normally take so much more explanation really makes the reader focus on the main problem. It is more like a journalist style of writing then anything else. He writes without pity or sympathy for the men and women injured in this process, not because he has no pity, but because he is reporting it unbiased leak to the public. As such, "it is a great work of journalism. And whether or not his readers got the message he wanted them to get, they understood it the novel as a work of social realism: as describing actual conditions in the real world, not simply in a fictional one" (Olsson 1). Sinclair's novel was very successful in exposing the conditions, partly because of the design of his style of writing.
However, the language is not flat in regards to the depth behind it. There is a great sense of figurative language behind the gory details. Sinclair uses a number of imaginative and figurative devices in order to compare the horrors of a single incident to the larger society. Here, the research suggests that "direct statement is his strength, but he makes good use of symbols, too" (Oatman 30). Sinclair often turns to metaphors and similes as a way to connect these individual acts of horror to the larger concerns in meatpacking and other industries at the time. These metaphors and similes are meant to connect the horror the reader experiences with a demand for change. Thus, "The Jungle depicts the meatpacking world in painstaking and lurid detail, so that it's small wonder that those sections made the strongest impression. Sinclair was a meticulous reporter and a vivid explainer, not just of the industry but of the interlocking worlds of factory and slum and political machine" (Olsson 1). Sinclair relies heavily on the use of metaphors and analogies throughout the novel. This is part of his stylistic strategy to add depth to his writing, but also to connect on a deeper level with the public. He "relies heavily on figures of speech to remind us that he serious about comparing life in turn-of-the-century America with life in the jungle" (Oatman 31). This imagery and connection with the reader was shocking for the readers of the time. As such, it was a successful stylistic strategy to use to gain such notoriety that helps demand reform in real life. As one report states, "like the symbolism, such figures of speech help give many passages in the book of poetic quality, forcing you to dig beneath the surface of the words for meaning" (Oatman 30). Sinclair's novel is full with depth, even if it is written in a more colloquial and direct style.
There is also a great sense of honesty in Sinclair's writing style that allows him to unabashedly portray life as an immigrant worker in the factories. He does not hold back when describing the horrors experienced by workers in the factories. There are many who rate "integrity as Sinclair's greatest strength, and claims his eloquence in writing and speech, along with his reputation for selflessness as the basis of a ground swell of support for Sinclair and his ideas" (Arthur 1). He was not afraid to discuss his readers. Instead, he wanted to, in order to really show what was really going on. He wanted to show "the sense of unrelenting cold and misery that plagues the immigrant characters" (Olsson 1). This, he did very successfully. According to the research, "Sinclair uses strong sensory imagery that many of his more refined readers in 1906 found repugnant" (Oatman 31). Although not purposely writing in discussing language, this seems and experiences of the characters are often horrific. This allows the reader to feel sorry for the individuals who were often overlooked in a society of that time. Therefore, "he makes us see what, in ordinary life, we might recoil from: garbage, the slaughtering process" and so much more of the gross underbelly of capitalism many of us hope to ignore (Oatman 31). This occurs throughout the novel, but particularly in specific scenes discussing individual workers in the injuries he incurred. There is one scene where Sinclair describes workers being turned into lard; "and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting -- sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard!" (Sinclair 120). Imagining a man being turned into lard is a horrifying idea, yet Sinclair is honest in his description of how it happens but also in the lack of concern these companies had four one such occurrence happened. In another scene, describing working conditions, Sinclair writes, "Things that were quite unspeakable went on there in the packing houses all the time, and were taken for granted by everybody; only they did not show, as in the old slavery times,…