The graphic adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” shows how hard work can lead to poverty

The Jungle

I read Sinclair’s original novel when I was a teenager.  I don’t know how many people read it anymore, but it is still in print, and it is not in the public domain, which means that someone is renewing the copyright.

There is a lost silent film of The Jungle…this clip isn’t it…but it does have some great historic footage to help you visualize the era.

Upton Sinclair, who wrote the original novel, was known as a “muck racker” journalist, which means he sought out and reported on the negative aspects of society; it’s what we would call “investigative journalism” today. Of course, this type of journalism can be sensationalistic, and certainly you wouldn’t like it if you were making money from the exposed activities, but on the other hand, this type of reporting does bring about change.

The story follows the struggles of an immigrant family as they try to make their way in the meatpacking district of Chicago. 

Men and boys working in the meatpacking district of Chicago, early 1900’s.

Men and boys working in the meatpacking district of Chicago, early 1900’s.

I thought it was interesting when I originally read it, and in retrospect it seems like a bit of a strange choice for a teenager.  When I read it, I thought that all of the problems in the book had long since been corrected, but as an adult, I know that really, none of them have.

Yes, we have stronger food and drug laws, which is one of the issues, but do we still feel comfortable about the sources of all of our food?  No.   

Another issue in this book is the treatment of the employees, who have no rights.  They can’t even count on keeping their jobs when they get injured on the job!  This is an issue that may have dissipated in the United States during the second half of the 20th century, but now between manufacturing jobs having been moved off shore, and the “gig economy”, they are back. 

The third issue in this book is business practices that are unfair to the consumer.  This is another issue that we might think had been dealt with long ago, especially with regard to houses, which is the issue in The Jungle.  But then what happened in 2008?  We had a housing crisis because of subprime lending practices, which is basically what happens to the family in The Jungle.  And reminds me of an even more serious lending problem we have in the United States right now, which college debt. 

A major theme that is emphasized in the graphic version (below), is the value of hard work. When the immigrant family is faced with unfair business practices, their reaction is to work harder and longer. More and more family members seek paying jobs…including those who should not because of their age and health issues. They don’t shirk from their responsibilities, and they are convinced that all will be well if they just try hard enough.

But would actually have been better off by not trying to improve their lot. How is that possible?

Read on and see if you agree.

Complete view of cover photo…A shot of men in the Chicago stockyards in the early 1900’s.

Complete view of cover photo…A shot of men in the Chicago stockyards in the early 1900’s.

The Jungle as a graphic novel

This is the second graphic novel written from a “classic” novel that I have read recently.  I wasn’t sure about the phenomenon of reworking classic works into graphic novels…shouldn’t we have new stories…but I have liked both of them.

I have actually thought about rereading The Jungle from time to time, but due to my concern with running out of life before I run out of books, I haven’t.  I felt it would take too much time.  But I was happy with the 2-3 hours that the graphic  novel took.  I also think that this particular story lends itself well to this type of re-envisioning because The Jungle was written as a contemporary novel, so things that might have been perfectly clear to the original audience are hard to imagine now.

One feature of this book I particularly enjoyed were the period advertisements that ran around the border of some of the pages, and I wished this theme had been more developed with other references that helped us understand the time period more.

The Jungle is a perfect read if you want to “better yourself” through literature but don’t have the time. 

Free Resource

Check out this episode of “The Corbett Report” on The Jungle.

The Jungle is heavy going…if you need a lighter “graphic”, try this story of a family business in New York.

Upton Sinclair’s muck racking of the oil industry….


Upton Sinclair covered several different industries during his long career.

The Lanny Budd series is about an American arms manufacturer.

The Sylvia books were co-written with Sinclair’s wife, and get into STD’s, belief it or not!

Sunk Cost Fallacy

Of the main issues in this book, the one that resonates the most strongly with me is the issue with the house.  The family’s desire to live in a house is what actually sinks them more than anything else.

They are shrewd with their money, but first, they get themselves into a bad contract, not through any fault of their own, but because they can’t read the contract for themselves, and they are given bad advice.

By the time they are warned of the problems with the contract they have signed, they are already “committed” to the house, so to protect their deposit, they don’t move out. They convince themselves that they can “work hard” and make it ok.

But they can’t.

As you read this book, and things get worse for the characters, ask yourself what options they have at each point in the story. You might see that their real problem is this issue.

Short Read

Quick Read

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“The Sunk Cost Fallacy is Ruining Your Decisions: Here’s How” from Time Magazine

The Difficulties of Doing Business outside your Home Country

If you have always lived in your native country, you might not understand this, but honestly, I can.  Having lived in two very different countries for extended periods of time, and both times in local apartment buildings, I can tell you that even if you deal with people who speak the language just fine, you don’t know what you don’t know, and the other person doesn’t either. 

I can’t even describe some of the ongoing issues I have had, but a good illustrative example is with my apartment, as I was a tenant in a foreign country the same time that I was a landlord in my home country.  At times, I found myself paying for the same repairs to my apartment and my home (that I owned), because in the US, the owner pays for all repairs, but in the country I was living in, the tenant usually does.  The best I understand it, the tenant basically takes on responsibility for the property while it is rented, or at least, to a greater degree than a tenant in the US does.  It took me a long time to understand this principle, and I also had a good landlord, which mitigated the problem somewhat.

So I understand how someone can come to a new country, show an attorney a contract, be told it is “standard”, and then find out later there were a lot of unexpected fees.

So that’s one thing.  Most people never leave their own country, so for most people, it’s not a big issue.

But the other one is: when you find out that something is a bad deal, but you don’t bail on the deal, and end up in worse trouble.

So the question to ask yourself as you read this book is “what would happen to these people if they just kissed their deposit good-bye and move out of the house?”  That’s the key question.  The answer may surprise you, especially if you have ever been in this situation.

Then read up on the “sunk cost fallacy”, and try not let yourself fall victim.