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The Jungle. by Upton Sinclair. Historical Background. I. Sources of Progressive Reform A. Industrialization, with all its increase in productivity and the number of consumer goods, created 1) Unemployment and labor unrest 2) Wasteful use of natural resources 3) Abuses of corporate power

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the jungle

The Jungle

by Upton Sinclair

historical background
Historical Background
  • I. Sources of Progressive Reform
    • A. Industrialization, with all its increase in productivity and the number of consumer goods, created
      • 1) Unemployment and labor unrest 2) Wasteful use of natural resources 3) Abuses of corporate power
    • B. Growing cities magnified problems of poverty, disease, crime, and corruption
    • C. Influx of immigrants and rise of new managerial class upset traditional class alignments
    • D. Massive depression (1893-1897) convinced many that equal opportunity was out of reach for many Americans.

II. Who Were the Progressives?

    • A. New middle class composed of young professionals
      • Sought to apply principles of professions (medicine, law, business, teaching) to problems of society
      • Strong faith in progress and the ability of educated people to overcome problems
      • Rise in volunteer organizations organized to address issues (American Bar Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Municipal League, eg.)
      • Mainly urban in residence and orientation
    • B. Muckraking journalists attacked corruption and scandal with a sense of moral outrage
      • 1. Lincoln Steffens exposed city machines in The Shame of the Cities (1904)2. Ida Tarbell exposed Standard Oil Trust abuses 3. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906) attacked the meat-packing industry
    • C. Political reformers (many opposed to traditional party politics)
    • D. Socialists--frustrated workers who promised to destroy capitalism. Led by Eugene Debs (who polled 900,000 votes for president in 1912), socialists were rejected by most Progressives as too extreme in their goals and methods

III. Teddy Roosevelt & the Square Deal

    • A. Using the power of the presidency (a "bully pulpit") as no president since Lincoln, T.R. loved to lead and to fight those he felt were not acting in America's best interests.
      • Coal Strike--When coal mine owners refused to deal with the union in a 1902 strike, T.R. summonsed them and the head of the mine workers to the White House and threatened to use army troops to keep the mines open. Owners backed down and T.R. was credited with ending the strike
      • Northern Securities Case--T.R. used the Sherman Antitrust Act to attack a railroad monopoly. Supreme Court ordered the company to dissolve.
      • Added Departments of Labor and Commerce to the Cabinet
      • Pushed through the Hepburn Act (1906), strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission
      • Urged Congressional approval of the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906), which forbade impure foods and required labeling of ingredients of foods and drugs.
  • B. Conservation reform added massive areas to the national forests (total of 190 million acres)

IV. Major Progressivism Programs

    • A .Education
      • Progressive education--John Dewey led movement that focused on personal growth, not mastery of body of knowledge and learning through experience.
      • Charles Eliot of Harvard pioneered elective courses and new teaching techniques (such as seminars) to make university learning more meaningful
      • Women began attending colleges in large numbers (by 1920, 47% of total enrollment was female).
      • Believing that more education would help bring an enlightened population, Progressives pushed enrollments to record levels (86% of children in schools by 1920) without seriously assessing how schools were doing.
    • B. Law--judges opinions needed to be based on factual information, not just oral arguments and precedents
      • Muller V. Oregon (1908)--limited women's working hours
      • Not all Progressive legal principles prevailed. In Lochner v. New York (1905), the Supreme Court overturned a New York law limiting bakers' working hours.
    • C. Settlement houses--Jane Addams and others established group homes in city slums to aid poor urban residents.
      • Promoted public health reform in cities, chlorinating water and tightening sanitary regulations
      • Developed education and craft programs for residents
      • Created neighborhood health clinics and dispensaries

D. Racial anti-discrimination efforts

    • Booker T. Washington (Atlanta Compromise) argued for self-help and accommodation on the part of blacks to white society
    • W.E.B. DuBois (Niagara Movement--1905) urged blacks to assert themselves and agitate for political and economic rights. Formed NAACP to use legal means to end racial discrimination
  • E. Women's rights
    • While the number of employed women stayed constant from 1900-1920 (20%), the type of work switched from domestic labor (servants, cooks, laundresses) to clerical work (clerks, typists, bookkeepers), factory work, and professionals.
    • Most women still held the lowest paying and least opportune jobs
    • Significant Progressive feminists called for greater reform
      • Charlotte Perkins Gilman attacked the male monopoly on opportunity and declared that domesticity was an obsolete value for American women
      • Margaret Sanger led the movement to provide birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies among poor women
      • Suffragists urged that women be given the franchise, which came on the national level with the 19th Amendment (1919).
  • F. Child labor laws--most states passed minimum working age laws and prohibited children from working more than 10 hours per day, but enforcement was difficult to achieve.
  • G. Temperance--Anti-Saloon League and Women's Christian Temperance Union fought alcoholism on the state level through blue laws and on the national level with the 18th Amendment which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor.

Livestock pens comprised approximately 40 acres of the stock yards, 1880.From 1893 to 1933, there was no year in which fewer than 15 million head of livestock were unloaded at the stockyards.


One of the earliest to move into the area was the Armour plant in 1867. Armour, along with several other large meatpacking firms, including Swift, Morris, and Hammond, came to dominate the industry. At the turn of the century, Chicago's meatpacking industry employed more than 25,000 people and produced 82 percent of the meat consumed in the United States. In addition to processing meat, the packinghouses made creative and lucrative use of slaughterhouse by-products. They built factories to manufacture items such as leather, soap, fertilizer, glue, imitation ivory, gelatin, shoe polish, buttons, perfume, and violin strings.

Livestock pens of Armour and Company.


Chicago Union Stockyards

The meatpacking industry was a major employer for people living in the Black Belt, Bridgeport, and other nearby neighborhoods around the turn of the century, but particularly for the 40,000 people in "Back of the Yards" -- the area immediately south and west of the packinghouses. In this area, often called "Packingtown," most adults worked for Armour, Swift, or the other meatpackers, typically as common laborers.


The neighborhood was a patchwork of different ethnic groups who laid claim to different blocks and different churches. These immigrant groups spoke their own languages, enjoyed their own customs and created a life apart from their work in the packing plants. The division of the neighborhood was never quite as distinct as this map suggests. Although certain groups were been concentrated in certain blocks, people of different backgrounds frequently lived in the same blocks and the same tenement houses.

Also, the neighborhood was small enough that the different groups saw each other frequently on the streets. The division of the neighborhood shifted as new groups of immigrants replaced older groups. In the decades around the turn of the century, Poles, Lithuanians, Slovaks and Hungarians were gradually  replacing the Germans, Irish and Canadians who had previously lived there.


Stock Yard Canning Room, c.1890

Women generally worked as packagers in meatpacking plants

The packinghouses also employed women as packagers and children as messengers, paying them a fraction of the amount adult male workers earned.

About 20 percent of the typical plant workforce were women. They were hired exclusively for certain jobs, which were designated by company policy to be for women only. Usually those jobs required dexterity, such as packaging sliced bacon, preparing casings and linking sausage, packaging lard and smoked meats, or cleaning the guts of the slaughtered animals. Hourly pay rates for women's jobs were ten cents an hour less than men's rates, but many women's operations were on piece rates, so they could earn more by working faster.


Less than ideal working conditions, such as blood-soaked floors, were common in slaughterhouses, 1892

The working conditions for the thousands employed at the Union Stock Yards were abhorrent. Laborers on the killing floors had to work amidst the stench and piercing shrieks of animals being slaughtered while standing on blood-soaked floors. They worked long hours-usually ten to twelve a day-in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in the summertime. Stockyard employers could keep wages low and withhold benefits due to the ready supply of immigrant workers desperate to earn a living.


Most jobs required little skill; only the butchers with their highly specialized cutting techniques were considered skilled workers. Workers could learn quickly the one-step assembly line tasks, making the stockyards an attractive prospect to those immigrants who arrived without work skills or spoke limited English.

Irish and German immigrants were among the first ethnic groups to seek stockyard employment in the late nineteenth century. Bohemians, Poles, Slavs, other Eastern European immigrants, and, later, African Americans and Mexicans added to the culturally diverse workforce.


Splitting backbones and final inspection—hogs ready for the cooler, Swift & Co., Chicago, U.S.A..


1904 Union Stock Yards strike

Workers went on strike and attempted to unionize in an effort to improve their harsh working conditions, however the early attempts were relatively unsuccessful. Two significant efforts were made in 1894 and 1904, but both failed due to strikers' inability to form a cohesive, effectual group.  In 1894, stockyard butchers went on strike to demand higher wages, but their solitary effort was doomed without the support of their unskilled co-workers. Because of this, the meatpacking conglomerates had little problem finding strikebreakers to fill the vacant positions.


The Old Stone Gate to the Chicago Stockyards became a National Historical Landmark in 1981. It was acquired by the City when the Stockyards officially closed in 1971, after which all of the facilities of the “live stock hotel,” and the meat packing industry buildings were razed. The area is now devoted to “light” industry

. The Old Stone Gate was erected in 1879, replacing the original wooden gate erected at the founding of the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company (USY&T) facilities in 1865. The USY&T occupied one square mile at the Southern boundaries of the City, extending from 39th St to 47th St and from Halsted to Ashland. Ave.


Millet, Jean-François. L’homme à la houe.The Man with a Hoe by Edwin Markham, and L'homme à la houe by Jean-François Millet.

Ronald Wyllys. 13 Aug. 2007. University of Texas at Austin. 12 Feb. 2009 <>.


The Man with a Hoe

by Edwin Markham

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leansUpon his hoe and gazes on the ground,The emptiness of ages in his face,And on his back, the burden of the world.Who made him dead to rapture and despair,A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gaveTo have dominion over sea and land;To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;To feel the passion of Eternity?Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the sunsAnd marked their ways upon the ancient deep?Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulfThere is no shape more terrible than this--More tongued with cries against the world's blind greed--More filled with signs and portents for the soul--More packed with danger to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!Slave of the wheel of labor, what to himAre Plato and the swing of the Pleiades?What the long reaches of the peaks of song,The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,Plundered, profaned and disinherited,Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,Is this the handiwork you give to God,This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?How will you ever straighten up this shape;Touch it again with immortality;Give back the upward looking and the light;Rebuild in it the music and the dream;Make right the immemorial infamies,Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,How will the future reckon with this Man?How answer his brute question in that hourWhen whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--With those who shaped him to the thing he is--When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,After the silence of the centuries?

Markham, Edwin. “The Man with a Hoe.” The Man with a Hoe by Edwin Markham, and L'homme à la houe by Jean-François Millet.

Ronald Wyllys. 13 Aug. 2007. University of Texas at Austin. 12 Feb. 2009 <>.


With what imagery does Markham describe the physical characteristics of Millet’s main figure?

With what creatures does Markham ironically compare this figure?

What may be inferred from Markham’s poem in regards to this creature’s lifestyle?

What class from his own time and country might Markham have had in mind when he wrote his poem?

Who is held responsible by the poet for the condition of the “Man with the Hoe”?

What does Markham imply will result if nothing is done to uplift the man?

Describe the similarities and/or differences between your own reaction to the painting and Markham’s.

To what extent do you believe Markham’s reaction was justified?

What does Markham’s poem, and its success, tell you about the mood of America at the turn of the 20th century?


In the Currier & Ives print “The Ladder of Fortune,” what are some of the steps one must take to reach one’s fortune?

List some of the “fruits” of fortune depicted in the print.

What are some of the pursuits pictured in the background, pursuits which might distract one from climbing “The Ladder of Fortune”?

In your opinion, how can the attitudes exemplified by Currier & Ives and Horatio Alger, Jr. who wrote juvenile novels on the rags to riches theme be reconciled with the experience of JurgisRudkus in The Jungle?


Looking Backward, 2000-1887 Chapter 1 excerpt

by Edward Bellamy

By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression of the way people lived together in those days, and especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another, perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest ascents. These seats on top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great demand and the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one's seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.  

But did they think only of themselves? you ask. Was not their very luxury rendered intolerable to them by comparison with the lot of their brothers and sisters in the harness, and the knowledge that their own weight added to their toil? Had they no compassion for fellow beings from whom fortune only distinguished them? Oh, yes; commiseration was frequently expressed by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach, especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it was constantly doing, or to a particularly steep hill. At such times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping and plunging under the pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable displays of feeling on the top of the coach. At such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to patience, and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great pity that the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of general relief when the specially bad piece of road was gotten over. This relief was not, indeed, wholly on account of the team, for there was always some danger at these bad places of a general overturn in which all would lose their seats.  


It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance the passengers' sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than before. If the passengers could only have felt assured that neither they nor their friends would ever fall from the top, it is probable that, beyond contributing to the funds for liniments and bandages, they would have troubled themselves extremely little about those who dragged the coach.  

I am well aware that this will appear to the men and women of the twentieth century an incredible inhumanity, but there are two facts, both very curious, which partly explain it. In the first place, it was firmly and sincerely believed that there was no other way in which Society could get along, except the many pulled at the rope and the few rode, and not only this, but that no very radical improvement even was possible, either in the harness, the coach, the roadway, or the distribution of the toil. It had always been as it was, and it always would be so. It was a pity, but it could not be helped, and philosophy forbade wasting compassion on what was beyond remedy.  

The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular hallucination which those on the top of the coach generally shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled at the rope, but of finer clay, in some way belonging to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn. This seems unaccountable, but, as I once rode on this very coach and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be believed. The strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had but just climbed up from the ground, before they had outgrown the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its influence. As for those whose parents and grand-parents before them had been so fortunate as to keep their seats on the top, the conviction they cherished of the essential difference between their sort of humanity and the common article was absolute. The effect of such a delusion in moderating fellow feeling for the sufferings of the mass of men into a distant and philosophical compassion is obvious. To it I refer as the only extenuation I can offer for the indifference which, at the period I write of, marked my own attitude toward the misery of my brothers.  

Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward, 2000-1887. American Studies. 6 Sept. 2004. University of Virginia. 12 Feb. 2009 <>.


1. If society, in the view of Bellamy, was a “prodigious coach,” indicate who or what thereon filled the following:

    • Pullers
    • Driver
    • Passengers
  • 2. How did the passengers
  • obtain their seats atop the
  • coach?
  • 3. Why were the passengers
  • so afraid of the possibility of
  • losing their seats?

What sort of “accidents” do you think Bellamy had in mind as the means by which passengers sometimes lost their seats?

What economic conditions could have been symbolized by Bellamy as “a bad place in the road” or “a particularly steep hill”?

How were passengers accustomed to react during such periods of difficulty?

Restate two arguments by which passengers justified their privileged positions?

Based on your general knowledge of 19th century American history, to what extent do you believe Bellamy’s description was justified?

To what extent do you believe Bellamy’s description may be applied to the American system today?