The Jungle is ferocious fiction

Anyone who could call Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle entertainment is morally bankrupt.

The novel, which rocked America in 1906, is exposé, propaganda, political theater.


The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Viking, 1905. 343 p. 1906 bestseller #6. My grade B-.


Corrupt Chicago politicians. Salmonella-tainted food. Sub-prime mortgages. Water supplies poisoned by industrial waste.

Sinclair exposed them all.first edition cover of The Jungle shows industrial age factories.

Sinclair weaves a journalist’s reporting around the fictional story of a Lithuanian peasant family that comes to the US for a better life.

They have little money, no English. The only person they know lives in Chicago, so that’s where they go.

They get jobs in the vast meat packing industry.

It’s brutally hard, dehumanizing work.

They can’t make a decent living.

They are dependent on credit.

One slip—an accident, an illness—and they may starve or freeze to death.

Sinclair is less interested in his characters as persons than as representatives. His omniscient narrator keeps readers from getting too close to them.

Scenes are Sinclair’s forté: Slaughterhouses, boarding houses, jails, saloons, and brothels are described in sickening detail.

Sinclair’s protagonist, Jurgis, finally comes to see that his personal problems are epidemic, systemic.

Jurgis becomes a socialist.

The socialists have one advantage over other workers: They believe someday things will be better.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Turmoil packs industrial-size wallop

In The Turmoil Booth Tarkington has crafted a novel about human and national ambition that illuminates while it entertains.

Abandoned clay factory

Sheridan — he’s called only by his last name — built his town into a city by hard work, business acumen, including some shady deals, and luck.


The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington

1915 bestseller #1. Project Gutenberg ebook # 1098 My grade: B+.


Sheridan’s long-range plan is to turn all his operations over to his sons. Jim and Roscoe are already in management.

His father has no luck getting son Bibbs, “the odd one,” interested in business.

Mary Vertrees’ family, once the city’s social leaders, have fallen on hard times. Mary must marry money to save her parents.

Mary sets her cap for Jim Sheridan. He is killed in an accident the same day Mary realizes she cannot marry him.

Mary and Bibbs become friends. Mary encourages his interest in writing, but Bibbs’ father wants him in the business.

Bibbs has to choose between his writing and his family —  and decide whether Mary is part of his future.

Tarkington’s characters are believable bundles of contradictions. The elder Sheridan is a tyrant, for example, but a tyrant who means well. Bibbs is sensitive and insightful, but has his father’s business sense.

This romance set against a begrimed backdrop of an Industrial Age city is one you won’t soon forget.


Tarkington planned a trilogy of novels about the American worship of Bigness and the money it brings. The Turmoil was the first of the set that he wrote, but when Tarkington collected the novels in a single volume called Growth in 1927, he placed it as the second novel in the set.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Image: Abandoned clay factory photo by anafa