The Jungle: Uncensored Proletarian Literature

The Jungle.

I have known about the book for many years. I knew that it was about the meatpacking industry in Chicago in the early 1900’s; the men, women, and children who labored in the industry; and that what was exposed in the book led the federal government to enact the the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. I also knew that the author was Upton Sinclair, an American writer, author, and Socialist.

While I knew these basic facts about the book, I had never read it. A couple of months ago I decided to do something about that.

So, I went to the local half-price book store to search for a copy of the book. I found several copies, in different editions, of JungleThe Jungle on the shelf, copies sold after they had been read in high school and university literature classes.

One copy of the book stood out to me. The cover design was distinctly different from the other two or three editions. The book was thicker because it contained more chapters than the others. And, it had this note across the bottom of the cover: “The Uncensored Original Edition. Lost For Over 80 Years.”

That note intrigued me, so I purchased the See Sharp Press edition of The Jungle.

I started reading Sinclair’s novel until this week and have just finished the Forward and Introduction. The Introduction, written by Kathleen De Grave, has been amazing. What De Grave revealed about the writing of the book, the initial intent and purpose.of the book, and the editing process the book went through before it was published has proven to be as exciting, educational, and motivating as I expect the book itself to be.

Here are a couple of facts about the book that were noted in the Introduction:

  • In 1904, The Appeal to Reason, a leading Socialist newspaper, commissioned Sinclair to research and write a series of articles about the Chicago meatpacking industry.
  • The book was written in 1905 and submitted to Macmillan press for publication.
  • Macmillan returned the book to Sinclair along with a list of changes they wanted made in it if they were to publish the book. The publishers simply wanted a novel that focused on the horrors of the meatpacking industry in the early 1900’s, not one that would indict the capitalist system for its brutal use and abuse of working men, women, and children for capitalist profit and gain.
  • The “expurgated” version of The Jungle was published in 1906

Regarding the revisions requested by MacMillan, Upton Sinclair later wrote, “They told me that they could not publish it as it stood, and would have to require omissions and alterations that would ruin the book for the purpose for which I had written it.”

“That purpose,” De Grave wrote, “the purpose for which he had written the book, was to argue for workers’ rights and the Socialist vision.”

Sinclair did make omissions and alterations to the book in order to get it published. The result is the emasculated version of the book that is read in high school and university literature classes across our nation and the world.

I am glad that I came across and will be reading a copy of the uncensored version of The Jungle as Sinclair intended it to be read, as a political commentary on the capitalist system in the early Twentieth Century, not just the meatpacking industry of Chicago.

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