One thing that I love about summer is that I can actually read something that I want to read. I can feel smart just by picking up a book; there’s no worrying about coming up with a thesis for an inevitable paper that will take me until 4 a.m. to write, only to be returned later covered in corrections. I decided to feel especially smart a week ago, when I chose to read The Jungle as opposed to something like Confessions of a Shopaholic (which I don’t mean to debase – I read it and of course enjoyed it).
To all who don’t know, The Jungle was written by Upton Sinclair in 1906. It’s about a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to Chicago with his family and goes to work at a meat-packing factory. The book exposes not only the lack of regulation in the meat industry, but it also shows the inhumane conditions under which a significant portion of Americans worked. After the book caused a lot of public outcry, the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act was passed later that year, leading to the later Food and Drug Administration.
I think it goes without saying that the book made me really glad to be living in the U.S. today. It’s amazing to me to think that the country that was born from the ideals of freedom and democracy could have ever produced a society in which such violations of human dignity could take place. Then again, I remembered that the Constitution was written by several slave owners, and that it initially only gave white, property-owning males the right to vote.
The beginning of the United States was of course an unprecedented step toward a world in which people are given equal opportunity to determine independently the course of their lives, but it obviously was not flawless. Today it seems that the ideals of the Constitution, like independence and freedom, are much more widely practiced ironically because of increased government involvement, at least in some cases.
I definitely recommend this book – it’ll make you glad you’re living now, or at any rate it’ll make you find your job a bit more pleasant by comparison. Well, I started out saying that I was glad that I could read a book without writing a paper, and then I wrote this. I guess I’m just a creature of habit.