• 2006-05-03

    + Muckraker Upton Sinclair




    Muckraker/Gang Wu 


    Upton Sinclair


    ...the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.”


           Although not quite appreciative when he alluded to the Man with the Muckrake, a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678), President Theodore Roosevelt had in effect crowned a group of perhaps the greatest journalists in history, the muckrakers.


           When the industries soared and the wealth rapidly gathered at a few hands at the turn of the 19th century, journalists proudly took up the muckraking job, digging into the dirty means of wealth-building of the big corporations, exposing the sufferings of the slum dwellers and exposing the corruptions of the government. Among the best-known muckrakers, Upton Sinclair was one of the most influential, thanks to his novel the Jungle.


           First serialized in 1904 in a socialist journal, Appeal to Reason, the story of a Lithuanian immigrant family struggling for survival at a stock yard in Chicago made a sensation selling 150,000 copies in 1906. It was translated into 17 languages and was a best-seller in the world.


           The book became a major example of the muckraking tradition as it depicted in drastic tones “poverty, the complete absence of social security, the scandalous living and working conditions, the lack of hygiene, and generally the utter hopelessness prevalent among the have-nots, which is contrasted with the deeply-rooted corruption on the part of the haves.” (Wikipedia)


           Even President Roosevelt was shocked by the picture. After reading the book, he ordered an investigation of the meat-packing industry. He also met Sinclair and told him that while he disapproved of the way the book preached socialism he agreed that “radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist.”


           The book was often compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its scale of social impact (New York Times, 1906). With nationwide outcries for reform, the Jungle led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which established the Food and Drug Administration.


           However, the outcome was not what Sinclair wanted to see. He had meant to demonstrate the evil exploitation of workers by capitalism, not merely to inspire a health reform. “I aimed at their hearts, and hit their stomachs,” he lamented.


           Sinclair wrote more than 90 books in his life (1878-1968), one of them, Dragon’s Teeth, even won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1943. But the Jungle was certainly the only book that was related to his name and the muckraking age he belonged to.