Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Jungle...random thoughts (very random)

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

*I first read this in high school. Didn't remember it all, but definitely remembered the gist. I believe that love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, once you read it, parts of it will always stay with you.

*Many will probably think I'm cruel for making Annie read this for school this year, as I know many complain that they were forced to read it in school, but it honestly is such an amazing, if horrifying, look at the U.S. during the early 1900s. I just spent weeks putting together a unit on this period of time, using multiple videos, non-fiction books, etc....and all of it, to varying degrees appears in The Jungle. As part of our study of 20th century U.S. history, we will be reading various works of fiction. I think that seeing history through literature is incredibly valuable. And there is no denying that this book allows one to vicariously live history through its pages.

*There was extreme racism in parts of this book. Part of the times? Sure. Still despicable.

*Personally, I think the first three-quarters of the book is much more interesting than the final chapters. The end is where Sinclair really got up on his socialist pulpit. And it's not that I personally have a problem with socialism (how many enemies did I just make for admitting that?), but reading page after page after page of socialist speeches just ended up boring me nearly to tears. I definitely found the portions more directly about Jurgis and his family far more compelling.

*I thought the way Sinclair sort of beat the reader down throughout the first three-quarters of the book was brilliant. Not pleasant, mind you. But, and maybe it's just me, I couldn't help but feel that he was wearing me down, sucking the life out of me, in just the same way that, as poor immigrants in the early 1900s, the life was being sucked out of Jurgis and his family. At the beginning of the book, there were scattered beautiful, tender moments. But those moments became fewer and fewer until they ceased to exist at all. It had a truly powerful effect on me.

*Probably goes without saying, but yeah, I was definitely grateful to be a vegetarian while reading this.

*And for some much less "random" looks at The Jungle:
--Inkweaver Reviews
--Charley at Bending Bookshelf
--Lauren at Wading Through 1001 Books
(Okay, so I actually couldn't find that many. I'm guessing there are more out there, so if you've reviewed it, feel free to leave a link in the comments and I'll add it here.)

20 comments:

Dawn said...

I've never read this book. I thought I would have gotten to more reading this summer than I have. I think I can only add one book to my list.

Do you create all of your own curriculum? That has to be a huge job!

take care,
Dawn

Amy said...

I've never read this book, but it sounds pretty interesting. Well except for the speech making. I have often thought of reading it, but it seems like it would be work to get through.

Amanda said...

My book group said the same thing this weekend, that the last chapters were completely different from the rest of the book, a spotlight on socialism that seemed completely disproportional with the rest of the book.

I'm still not interested in reading this, though. :)

Care said...

I'm glad I read this (in HS) but don't think I need to re-read it. I don't have a problem with you 'making' the dot read it! It IS a great discussion book for many reasons. My Dad is reading Oil! right now which I will NOT read but I'm impressed anyway. :)

Carl V. said...

I think the way that you taught The Jungle is NOT the way most people who were forced to read the book in school were taught it. Your method sounds like you immersed her more in the whole time period, etc. Heck, I want you to come teach it to me now! :)

As for your socialism comment, I doubt you've made any enemies. Although I think if you lived in a truly socialist country you'd probably feel quite different about it.

Lauren R. said...

I'm new to your blog and really enjoyed your thoughts about the jungle. I have my review of it posted at http://wadingthrough1001books.blogspot.com/2009/03/jungle-by-upton-sinclair.html. I also thought the novel was great, but was limited by the political speeches at the end. It's like he didn't trust his readers to get the message about the terrible working conditions/need for workers to do something within the narrative.

Debi said...

Dawn,
Not all of it, but most of it to this point. Like this year, she'll be taking a couple more community college classes and a video lecture course from the Teaching Company. This is a huge relief to me!

Amy,
It's funny, until the end, it's really not work to get through. And I enjoyed it. And like I said, it's an incredible look at the times. And still, I'm not sure if I would recommend it to someone for casual reading. Hmmm...some help I am, huh? ;)

Amanda,
I think not reading this book unless it honestly interests you is definitely the right choice.

Nymeth said...

I really don't think you're cruel for reading this with Annie, Debi! I bet she gained a lot from the discussions you had.

This is probably an incredibly ignorant question, but in America, "socialism" is mostly used as a synonym of "communism", right? Because the European use is quite different - the party in power here right now is the Socialism Party, and they're centre-left. I'm not a fan of communism of the Chinese and Russian type (or of any other totalitarian regimes) but the democratic socialism Scandinavia has, for example, I'm definitely a fan of. If it weren't for the language barrier I'd totally move to Sweden or Norway.

Debi said...

Care,
I'd actually like to read Ida Tarbell's The History of Standard Oil sometime. But frankly, after The Jungle, I think I need a break from the muckraking for a bit. ;)

Carl,
:D Actually, I did say that somewhat facetiously. It seems like just the word "socialism" affects some on par with a big old string of cuss words. I think what some people don't seem to realize is that few places, the U.S. included, are completely anything, but are more hybrid systems.
We'd be thrilled to have you come join our class! :D

Lauren,
Thanks for the link (I'll go add it in a sec)!
And yes, that's EXACTLY the feeling I got--about him not trusting his readers to get it. Of course, in a way, he was right, huh? As people turned out to be way more upset about their own meat supply than they were about the living conditions of poor workers. ;)

Debi said...

Nymeth,
Thanks...hope she feels the same! We actually haven't started yet...I thought she really could use the summer off.
And yes, I think a lot of people here in the U.S. do sort of lump socialism and communism all together. I think many people honestly don't understand a lot about socialism (and to be truthful, that would include me). But I do know enough to realize that the U.S. already has elements of socialism in it. Rich often uses the examples of our police and city fire departments in his classes. And yet so many people get so up in arms about the mere mention of word. You know what, I'll just say it flat out...I think capitalism is seriously screwed up. I don't know that it has to be, but I believe it is. When multinational corporations can control nearly everything, when people can work 60+ a week and still barely scrape by, when developed nations wield such total control over developing nations, there just has to be something wrong with the picture. I know a lot of people totally disagree with me, but there it is. And I know you won't hate me for saying so. :D

Carl V. said...

I agree Debi, the U.S. is certainly a hodgepodge off all kinds of governmental/philosophical systems. No doubt about it. I think that is what makes it work so well at times and so poorly at others. That and the fact that our leaders are sometimes real boneheads. ;)

What time does class start? Do I need to bring an apple for the teacher or would that get me labeled as a brown noser from the start?

One of the things I loved most about my senior high school English class is that the teacher made the books we read more of an 'experience' by bringing in film versions of them after we finished reading them and by teaching us not just about the story but about the author, the time period, etc. I probably said this earlier, but I think that kind of immersive experience makes the lessons learned last longer and have a more profound impact.

I don't know if you fully realize it or not, but the education you are giving Annie, and I'm sure all of your kids, is sowing seeds that will lead to them having such a full and rounded life. One of the many reasons I hope you keep blogging is the desire to see just what your children become.

Debi said...

Carl,
"I think that is what makes it work so well at times and so poorly at others. That and the fact that our leaders are sometimes real boneheads. ;)"...Yes, I believe we are in full agreement!!! :D

Oooh yes, sucking up to the teacher is highly encouraged...maybe it will rub off on Annie. ;)

You know, what you said about Annie's educational experience...that may well be the nicest compliment I've ever received! I'm serious. I know I sometimes bitch and moan about how much work it is, but I wouldn't have it any other way. If I'm going to be the one in charge of educating her, I want to make sure I do it well. Or as well as I can. And that means making it a full, well-rounded experience. And that means introducing her to points of view that aren't necessarily my own. I don't want my kids to just parrot what I think, I want them to be able to think for themselves. So anyway, thank you so very much for your incredibly kind words!

Nymeth said...

To be honest I don't know all that much about different political systems either, but I asked because I grew up with a different use of the term "socialism". And yes, I not only don't hate you, but also agree with you that it's seriously messed up. I hope we all find a better way to do things before too long - one that puts more emphasis on social justice while still allowing for individual freedom.

And I'm sure Annie will feel the same! I think you're doing an excellent job teaching her how to think critically. But with you and Rich for parents, not to mention the fact that she's so smart, there isn't much of a chance she wouldn't learn that :P

Carl V. said...

I'm thankful that my daughter had several different school experiences. She had classroom time, homeschool time (though not in our home, the home of my wife's cousin who was a teacher and started her own small homeschool) and now she is in college taking classes that give her high school credit (this is her senior year) and college credit. I think the variety of experiences have given her a very well-rounded and interesting education.

I certainly meant what I said about your methods, I think the schools (most likely more private schools and homeschool situations) where they are doing this kind of thing really open kids minds to all kinds of possibilities and just as important teach them to look at things from a variety of angles. Again, it is just too cool!

Staci said...

I've never read this book and honestly I'm not sure that it is one that I would ever get to, but I wouldn't mind being a student in your class so that we could discuss it!! Sounds like you really take a lot of time to make sure your students get a lot of perspectives!!

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