Books Like The Jungle?
December 30, 2013 9:31 PM   Subscribe

What are some books, stories, or poems like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle?

I'd love to read more works like The Jungle, and know more about its contexts. Ideally, but not necessarily, I'd like to read things that are similar, but not American, to get some perspective. This is partly for my own pleasure, so I'm interested in connections that are a bit stretched as well as obviously similar texts. Also, I'd like to teach Sinclair's book in a first-year university English class eventually, and so texts that might be interesting points of comparison would be very useful. Thanks!

Bonus points for Canadian content in particular!
posted by Edna Million to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You might find Mavis Gallant's stories interesting for the expatriate perspective.
posted by islander at 9:53 PM on December 30, 2013

Similar as far as the tone, the writing style, or the propagandist aspect?

For the tone of unending despair, my copy of the book recommends Tolstoy and Zola, but doesn't give specifics.

I'd guess that for a political counterpoint, you'd probably be looking at Ayn Rand, but I hope you can do better than that.
posted by LionIndex at 9:54 PM on December 30, 2013

The Octopus.

It's about wheat farming in California in the late 19th Century, and how the railroad companies screwed the farmers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:21 PM on December 30, 2013

Also, The Octopus – the book that comes immediately to mind – is only the first of a projected trilogy (although the third book never got written).

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, is probably the classic of the genre, and is definitely worth reading along with some of Steinbeck's similar novels written in the 1930s including Of Mice and Men, In Dubious Battle, and Tortilla Flat.

You might also check out nonfiction by the writers at McClure's Magazine in the early 20th century, the premiere example of which would be Ida Tarbell’s 19-part History of the Standard Oil Company. Both that era and the magazine are well described in the immense recent history The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. (She discusses The Jungle on pages 460-464.)

Another terrific nonfiction account from a slightly earlier era is David McCullough’s The Great Bridge, set in Brooklyn.

* * *
(Going beyond the question) – it's interesting to me that Sinclair wrote The Jungle to arouse public outrage about the miserable, truly hazardous situations faced daily by Chicago’s immigrant stockyard employees, but the public – ignoring the workers – mostly reacted to finding out that meat produced under such tainted conditions could make them sick.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:06 PM on December 30, 2013

Margaret Sweatman's novel Fox is set during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919; it might touch on some of the same sorts of issues that interest you in The Jungle.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:15 PM on December 30, 2013

Zola's Germinal is in the range of quintessential working class fiction.
posted by graymouser at 2:59 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's an awesome, difficult, flawed, great play by Naomi Wallace called Slaughter City that is set in a contemporary meat-packing plant--it lists The Jungle in its bibliography (yeah, it's a play with a bibliography, part of what's great about it). The play is contemporary but with a really unique flashback structure that takes in a lot of labor history.
posted by Mngo at 6:04 AM on December 31, 2013

If you're looking for similar content in terms of exploring working life and class struggle, there's a 2010 anthology called Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams that I've really enjoyed.
posted by elmer benson at 7:15 AM on December 31, 2013

I am surprised the following works went unmentioned in the above comments: The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell and The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 by Engels. Both books offer wrenching, highly detailed journalistic exposes of the working class poverty of 19th century industrial England; and Wigan Pier especially is horrifying. Both books are non-fiction journalistic accounts though Orwell's book has a first-person narrative flow which makes it read less dryly than the Engels work which suffers from too many details and statistics at times.

Read the Orwell book.

posted by mmorelli at 9:24 PM on April 3, 2014

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