It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
Upton Beall Sinclair (1878-1968) was an American novelist of the muckraker (a precursor to investigative journalism) school. He wrote to bring injustice out into the open and make people aware of it. He is best known for his novel The Jungle (first serialized in the journal The Appeal to Reason in 1904, published in book form shortly after) written about the stockyards and slaughterhouses of Chicago. He wanted to expose the horrendous working conditions faced every day in them and the pittance the people that worked there got for their efforts. He tried to show that these people were trying to work within the system to better their lives and the system was failing them miserably. He wanted the general public to see the poverty these people lived with and the effect that poverty had on their lives. The public did sit up and take notice when The Jungle was published but for a very different reason than the one Sinclair intended.
There had been bills introduced in Congress concerning food purity, with emphasis on the packing industry. But the beef industry had always managed to defeat them. Indiana senator Albert Beveridge, who earlier had sought Congressional action to address the situation, gave the book to President Theodore Roosevelt, who, sickened by what he read, realized his previous lukewarm support for pure food and drug laws was not enough. He ordered a new investigation by the Department of Agriculture (an earlier one had whitewashed the problem), and when he read it, he put the weight of the White House behind legislation. But Congress still stalled. The President released part of the report to the public, so alarming it that Congress was forced to pass a remedying law. On June 30, 1906, President Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act into law. Sinclair's response was I aimed for the public's heart...and by accident hit it in the stomache. The Jungle is considered by many to be one of the most significant books of the twentieth century.
- On his writing of The Jungle, in American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences (1932)
Many of Sinclair's books delved into the ills of society. Among Sinclair's other novels exposing social evils are King Coal (1917), Oil! (1927), Boston (on the Sacco and Vanzetti Case, 1928), and Little Steel (1938). In his social studies, such as The Brass Check (1919), on journalism, and The Goose-Step (1923), on education, he tried to uncover the harmful effects of capitalist economic pressure on institutions of learning and culture.Â He was a prolific writerÂ his ninty years who wrote an extensive amount of novels dealing with many issues of his, and our time. He also ran for public office several times. An ardent socialist, Sinclair was in and out of the American Socialist party and, under its aegis, ran unsuccessfully for congressman, senator, and governor. In 1934 he was again defeated, this time as the Democratic party's candidate for California governor.
Sinclair influenced other author's thoughts with his works. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said I look upon Upton Sinclair as one of the greatest novelists in the world, the Zola of America. The great George Bernard Shaw told him in a letter in 1941 I have regarded you, not as a novelist, but as an historian; for it is my considered opinion, unshaken at 85, that records of fact are not history. They are only annals, which cannot become historical until the artist-poet-philosopher rescues them from the unintelligible chaos of their actual occurrence and arranges them in works of art. When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to your novels. They object that the people in your books never existed; that their deeds were never done and their sayings never uttered. I assure them that they were, except that Upton Sinclair individualized and expressed them better than they could have done, and arranged their experiences, which as they actually occurred were as unintelligible as pied type, in significant and intelligible order.
If you are unfamiliar with his writing you can readÂ some of his booksÂ on the Gutenberg site.
NOTE: I left this out, but thought it was rather interesting. His 1927 novel Oil! was the basis of the film There Will Be Blood (2007), starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The film received eight nominations for an Oscar, and won two.
Sites used and for more information on Upton Sinclair