Thursday, October 19, 2006

Chapter 3 in The Jungle

Chapter 3 link is in the title! In the beginning of the chapter Jurgis finds work on his first day. He seems so happy to have found work as a gut shoveler. I find myself wondering how someone could be happy about that. However, looking at it from a penniless peasants point of view (not that I am rich but as of yet I have never had to shovel guts to pay the rent) I can see how I would be overjoyed to find a job to feed my family. The other men have a lead on some jobs and therefore the new family takes the rest of the day to explore their new surroundings. They take a tour of one of the packing plants, and I must tell you not to read it while eating because the description of the pigs squealing is enough to turn your stomach. I think by the end of the book, I may have to go back to my former life as a vegetarian. This description of the pigs is particularly visceral. "It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was porkmaking by machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests--and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretense of apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory." I can only imagine experiencing that first hand.

While reading this chapter, I was struck by the beauty of the description of the people working together in the slaughter houses. It was like Upton Sinclair really saw them as performing a dance together and for at least this moment in time, ignored the squalid conditions they had to live and work in. Also, the wonder and awe felt by the new family is bittersweet. You can understand their amazement at such an organization of food and slaughtering, but you also know that this is going to turn against them in the end. I found myself telling them in my mind not to be so entranced by this large machinery and telling them that the meatpacking industry cared as much about them as they did about the animals, probably less. But of course they did not listen. What do you expect from immigrants from far away that have never seen a factory, much less one of the size and magnitude of the old meatpacking firms. I encourage you to read my next post because I read this fabulous article on the industrial way we eat in America today in the New York Times on Sunday. It's fabulous and really kind of relates to the issues of meatpacking back in the day.

I look forward to any comments you have about the chapter. Be safe and have a good night.

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