Has there been a film version?
A silent film version in 1914
Who are the important characters?
Jurgis Rudkos – a Lithuanian immigrant to Packingtown of Chicago (the meat packing plants)
Marija Biarczynskas – a Lithuanian immigrant woman who comes to Chicago with the Rudkos family
Elzbieta – Jurgis’ stepmother-in-law
Ona – Jurgis’ wife
Stanislovas – one of Ona’s younger brothers
Connor – Ona’s boss
What’s it about?
The Rudkos family is Lithuanian and has immigrated to Chicago in hopes of a better life. Jurgis is in love with Ona – the slight delicate girl he’s known since childhood. And although they have enough love to go around as a family, nothing can prepare them for the violence and heartlessness of America’s factory system. They struggle with disease, incredible job competition, unfair wages and hours, police brutality, horrible work conditions, and a gradual loss of hope.
Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
It so indelicately exposed the reality of the meat packing industry and the impossibility of the lives of those who worked within its system. It also was a political treatise on the evils of capitolism and extols the benefits and necessity of a socialist society.
Do you recommend I read this book?
Yes, but don’t plan on feeling hungry afterwards.
Why did this book make your list?
It was a) a classic, b) a banned book, c) recommended by my mother-in-law.
Has it won any awards?
No, unless you count the fact it was banned.
“It is very imprudent, it is tragic – but, ah, it is so beautiful! Bit by bit these poor people have given up everything else, to but this they cling with all the power of their souls – they cannot give up the veselija! To do that would mean, not merely to be defeated, but to acknowledge defeat – and the veselija has come down to them from a far-off time, a time when money was made for man and not man for money – when the fruits of the earth belonged to the person who tilled it, and when plenty and to spare was the reward of honest toil.” – p 10
I hate it when books turn into political treatises. If I wanted politics, I’d check out specifically political books.
I felt all proud of myself when I managed to pick up the uncensored original edition of this book. I’m not exactly sure what was censored from the original, but I’ve got a pretty good idea – the entire last third of the book. The story starts out well enough. The two main characters getting married. But that is about the highest point in the book. From then on out it just gets more and more depressing. And disgusting. I never wanted to know the things I now know about the meat packing industry. There were several times both the grossness and the unfairness of what was happening in the story moved me to throw the book across the room or out the door or on the floor. Literally. However, I do have some thoughts on that time period. As gross and vomit inducing as some of the actions of the meat packers back then were, I don’t think humanity would be who they are now. All the people in those large cities were exposed to so many disgusting things (and all the soldiers getting rotten meat and all the other classes getting nasty rat sausage), that they had to have built up immunities over the years to hundreds of types of bacteria. Yes, a ton of people died, but isn’t that kind of how we got here in the first place? Eating things until they made us sick and then finding ways to adjust our bodies or learning to avoid them? Plus, we would have known so much less about hygiene in large cities had we not gone through that time period. Disgusting, but true.