The making of America with blood, guts and cruelty – is one of the thoughts that come to mind when the shock of this novel is contemplated. The book relentlessly depicts the truly ghastly side of human nature, and the setting is America. Poignantly, it is related through the experiences of a Russian immigrant, a young man strong and willing. The opening is a marriage, one of the most hopeful rites of passage young people can undertake. From then on the horror of the stock yards and slaughter houses in Chicago, are told and the unfolding tragedy is as terrible for man, as it is for beast. Sinclair is so desperate to impart his despair that he appeals directly to his readers. He worries that no poet has ever written movingly about poverty that leads to homelessness, starvation, and disease and inevitable death. Who, enjoying good literature, would read it? Another question possibly to ponder is: who of the wealthy would believe it? Aren’t the poor responsible for their poverty?
Sinclair’s hero, the male of the species, is so overwhelmed by his experiences that he runs away from his remaining family. It is the females that are left to survive and the only way they can is by adopting the oldest profession of them all. This is beyond terrible, as here are the stories of human trafficking and doping of young horrified victims with morphine. There is no escape from the brothel. The human sacrifice is so that the children can eat.
While the human tragedy is perturbing enough, Sinclair perhaps writes his most lyrical passages about the murder of pigs. He muses that there must be a God of pigs who would welcome them to heaven and thank them for their sacrifice. * All of the pig is used and it is only the squeal that is not, is the jest at the slaughter house. The dying cattle are treated with equal sympathy; they form a river of death. This reviewer’s fantasy of the great American cattle drives of the last century was finally laid to rest. The romance of the cowboys bit the dust years ago.
Surprisingly, Sinclair writes so well and constructs a story line that it is so gripping, interesting, and informed, that the novel is hard to put down. As sad as it is, the tale is peppered with researched facts and figures, so that one does not get swept away by the emotion of it all. It is a novel written by a man for men (they were the legislators at the time of writing).
A concluding thought for what it is worth: this novel describes an America that would allow the sale of guns at super markets.
*Rupert Brook (1887 – 1915) poem : Heaven.
1659 – First recorded immigration of Lithuanians to America
1877 – Black Beauty published (changes laws for cab drivers and working horses)
1906 – Pure Food Act and Meat Inspection Act passed in America – 6 months after the publication of this novel
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