Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
Crusading journalist Ida Tarbell published a hugely important critique of the Standard Oil Company's unfair business practices in 1904. Her analysis, The History of the Standard Oil Company, is a straightforward, nonfiction piece of investigative journalism. Yet it still had a big impact on the American public. Why might Upton Sinclair have chosen to present his exposé of the meatpacking industry as fiction? What would The Jungle be like if it were nonfiction?
Upton Sinclair has compared his own novel, The Jungle, to Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. But Harriet Beecher Stowe is definitely no socialist. What might have attracted Upton Sinclair to Stowe's novel? Why might Uncle Tom's CabinThe Jungle and Uncle Tom's Cabin?
still be a touchstone for a progressive novelist looking to make a difference in the world? What kinds of historical similarities are there between the conditions of publication for
The Jungle is clearly presenting a particular point of view on the social issues Upton Sinclair observes. Where do you see elements of bias that Sinclair uses to make his case that socialism is the best solution to these problems? What kinds of arguments might Big Business make in response to Sinclair's accusations? If you were a lawyer for the meatpacking industry, how would you respond to The Jungle?
There were strong anti-socialist views in the United States even in Upton Sinclair's day. However, American views of socialism have changed (and arguably, become more negative) as a result of the US' Cold War with the former Soviet Union. (For more on this anti-socialist/communist recent history, check out our Learning Guide on McCarthyism and Red Scare.) How does your perception of Socialism conform with or differ from Sinclair's depiction? Do you find his arguments for a collective, centralized economy persuasive?
We have emphasized the continuity between labor and immigration issues in Sinclair's day and today. However, Sinclair's novel does show definite signs of its time. For example, there are racial and gender stereotypes in The Jungle that appear biased and offensive now. How might The Jungle be different if it had been published in 2006 rather than 1906? Are you aware of any contemporary novels that try to achieve similar goals? Does investigative journalism have the same political consequences today that it did back at the turn of the twentieth century? Could a novel have the same impact on federal law today that The Jungle had on food safety regulations in 1906?