[Not] For Technophobes

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November 7, 2010

Soulless in “The Jungle”

Filed under: Uncategorized — E. A. @ 12:11 am

“It was quite like the feat of a prestidigitator,—for the woman worked so fast that the eye could literally not follow her, and there was only a mist of motion, and tangle after tangle of sausages appearing. In the midst of the mist, however, the visitor would suddenly notice the tense set face, with two wrinkles graven in the forehead, and the ghastly pallor of the cheeks; and then he would suddenly recollect that it was time he was going on. The woman did not go on; she stayed right there—hour after hour, day after day, year after year, twisting sausage-links and racing with death. It was piece-work and she was apt to have a family to keep alive; and stern and ruthless economic laws had arranged it that she could only do this by working just as she did, with all her soul upon her work, and with never an instant for a glance at the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen who came to stare at her, as at some wild beast in a menagerie” (129-130).

Making sausages in the meat-packing industry

The beginning of this excerpt, from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906), depicts the female worker’s motion as magical and subtlety weaves the description from one of intense speed to that of other worldly powers in describing her fast work as a ‘mist’. The pressure for mass output of the meat packer and the necessary intense concentration and monotony makes machines out of the workers. Treating the workers like machines is killing them quickly by wearing down their bodies. Knowing that their current position in the work force would not develop to a higher rank or pay these workers are faced with premature death and/or morbidity. The image of the meat packer “racing with death” supports this assumption in that the worker would feel their body wearing down, or worse, become injured and no longer be able to work at their former pace thus making them obsolete in the quickening pace-setting meat-packing industry. The assumed pressure of her having to support a family would not be an incorrect assumption because of the dangerous conditions workers faced in the beef and pork buildings. However, there is a pressure to survive in a world that is being overtaken by machinery and thus forcing the limits of worker, effectually working them to death. The soul is generally thought of as the essence of a human being and in this excerpt the worker is giving it up to the work that she is performing; in no way does this better her as a human being. She, along with thousands of other workers, is disregarded by the law because there is no one trying to stop this overworking system.

These workers have no rights and that is what I find most disturbing about this excerpt. Because this worker has no rights she must work under grueling conditions. There are excerpts that might highlight the danger but the pressure in this excerpt is astounding. I do not find it hard to believe that she might have a family to support because of the lack of adequate pay it would not have been likely that one income could have supported a household. There is a fear in this character that is palpable, she could lose her job for any reason and be left in a society where it was every person for themselves, when in the more dangerous jobs, injury or death were more respectable reasons to lose a job. If she were to lose her job for a different reason a lot of guilt would accompany the loss. That her age is not given I find interesting because it could be a young girl who has been working from a very young age and has thus come to look older, a result of child labor; that and the loss of one’s childhood and the opportunity for an education, this to help support their family. There is a hopelessness in this excerpt that should disturb all readers.


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