In The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, and The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, the characters are forced to deal with economic, social, and political problems that they must cope with throughout the story. Both books are similar in that they emphasize that in this country, one simply cannot win unless one plays by nature’s rules.
The economic problems in both stories were great. Jurgis (The Jungle) wishes to go to America to get rich. Buying a house stresses the whole idea of animals having something that is theirs. This is also shown with the jokes. They go to California in search of money and something of their own as well. Both, however, are faced with big economic problems. For Jurgis, it is the poor management and working conditions in Packingtown. Due to their overproduction in the summer, they are forced to shut down in the winter, making the workers unemployed when they most need financial support. There were also no set wages. They could pay them as little or as much as they wanted to. The Joads had a very similar situation that was complicated by the Great Depression. People took advantage of the fact that they were desperate for work by paying them pocket change.
Socially, there is one thing that both of them are looking for: acceptance. No matter where they went, they were discriminated against. In Chicago, Jurgis and his people are preyed upon by the higher classes because they are new to this country. They do not have all the knowledge that other Americans have. For this reason, the disreputable executives of Packingtown use them to better themselves. For example, Phil Connor uses poor Ona for his own sexual pleasure. Fair, I think not.
Politics are a great part of both novels, but they specifically plague The Jungle. Each novel emphasizes that no matter how hard you try, you can’t succeed unless you are unjust. It is known that both Steinbeck and Sinclair were socialists. Their writings strongly emphasize this in that they stress the demeaning of capitalism. In The Jungle, Sinclair does not mention any benefits of a capitalistic society. An example of this is Jurgis’s continuous struggle as the working man and harmony in being a selfish and deceitful swindler.
In conclusion, our two authors paint a vivid picture of our society almost at its worst. They brought forth interesting points about the squalor of our society in giving their views on how one should and would cope with such conditions. One may not agree with them, but now we can see their views through a different window.
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