Saturday, January 15, 2011

Minimum Rage : All-You-Dare-to-Eat

"(Upton Sinclair) envied what he considered (Harriet Beecher) Stowe's easier task for she had the murderous Simon Legree to lash slaves and hound them across ice floes. The plight Sinclair wanted to describe seemed dull by comparison...Wage slavery in the twentieth century was not a literal fact but a metaphor; no workers were chained to their jobs or shot for trying to quit. Moreover, as Sinclair noted, most of the workers in Chicago were foreigners who, rather than being kidnapped, had chosen to come here. The plight of workers in general might stir sympathy, even indignation, but their protests often came in the form of strikes that inconvenienced and antagonized the public...The hard fact was that the largely middle-class Americans...were not likely to demand the end of "wage slavery". Workers' problems for these readers were mostly distant and theoretical concerns, no matter how vividly described. Food, however, was an immediate and practical matter. Everyone had to eat...Sinclair made a calculated decision to use Chicago's slaughterhouses as a setting for ("The Jungle") because doing so would broaden his base of readers and appeal to their self-interest. His true subject, however was to be working conditions that he thought approximated slavery...He had virtually no interest in persuading readers that their meat was rotten except as a means of dramatizing the sad conditions of the workers who prepared it for them. People could always choose not to eat meat. Workers couldn't choose not to work if they wanted to live."

-from "Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair" by Anthony Arthur