The Jungle: Banned Books That Shaped America

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The list of authors of frequently and recently banned books reads is very similar to the New York Times Best Seller list: Alexi Sherman, Dr. Seuss, John Green, Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Anne Frank, Alice Walker, Stephen Chbosky, William Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kurt Vonnegut, Augusten Burroughs, and J. D. Salinger. Access to their works is being fought by small fringe groups that want to censor what you can experience. Their agendas vary, but are similar in their desired outcome: control of knowledge. No one is requiring them to read Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, but they want to stop you from having the choice of reading it. Do not let scared small-minded individuals create your world. Fight censorship!

The Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015, as recorded by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), are:

1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
6. The Holy Bible Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, 1906

For decades, American students have studied muckraking and yellow journalism in social studies lessons about the industrial revolution, with The Jungle headlining the unit.  And yet, the dangerous and purportedly socialist views expressed in the book and Sinclair’s Oil led to its being banned in Yugoslavia, East Germany, South Korea and Boston.  Good job Boston!

Upton Sinclair was born on September 20, 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. His family had once belonged to the southern aristocracy but, at Sinclair’s birth, the family hovered near poverty. Sinclair graduated from high school early and enrolled in the City College of New York at the age of fourteen. When he was fifteen, he began writing to support himself and help pay his college expenses. During his college years, Sinclair encountered socialist philosophy, the influence of which is evident in his writing throughout his life, and became an avid supporter of the Socialist Party. After he graduated from college, he enrolled in Columbia University as a graduate student in 1897.

Sinclair published five novels between 1901 and 1906, but none of them generated much income. Late in 1904, the editors of the popular socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason sent Sinclair to Chicago to examine the lives of stockyard workers. He spent seven weeks in the city’s meatpacking plants, learning every detail about the work itself, the home lives of workers, and the structure of the business. The Jungle was born from this research and was first published in serial form in Appeal to Reason. The first few publishers whom Sinclair approached told him that his novel was too shocking, and he financed a first publication of the book himself. Eventually, however, Sinclair did find a willing commercial publisher, and in 1906, The Jungle was published in its entirety.

With the instant success of The Jungle, Sinclair took his place in the ranks of the “muckrakers,” a term that Theodore Roosevelt coined in 1906 to refer to a group of journalists who devoted themselves to exposing the ills of industrialization. The Jungle raised a public outcry against the unhealthy standards in the meatpacking industry and provoked the passage of The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. No novel since Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, first published in 1851, had made such a social impact. The novel’s success satisfied Sinclair’s financial concerns but not his political motivations for writing it. Sinclair had intended the novel to elicit sympathy for the working class and build support for the Socialist movement. His readership, however, was more moved by the threat of tainted beef than the plight of the worker. Sinclair tried to translate the success of The Jungle into large-scale social change by building a utopian colony in New Jersey with the profits from the novel, but the colony burned down four months after its inception.

In 1911, Sinclair divorced his first wife and married Mary Craig Kimbrough, a writer. They moved to California, where Sinclair continued to write in support of socialism. During the Great Depression, Sinclair organized the End Poverty in California movement. In 1934, he ran as a democrat in an unsuccessful campaign to become California’s governor. During the 1940s, he returned to writing fiction. He enjoyed a revival in popularity and won a Pulitzer Prize for Dragon’s Teeth, a novel dealing with Nazism in Germany.

Sinclair and his wife moved to a small town in Arizona in the 1950s. After Kimbrough died in 1961, Sinclair married again. His third wife died in 1967, and Sinclair died in 1968. Though he published more than eighty books after The Jungle, he is most remembered for this novel. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and the Berlin Wall, the novel’s idealistic glorification of socialism may seem naïve, but the novel remains an important social record of the psychology of American capitalism in the early twentieth century.

Source: Books That Shaped America | National Book Festival – Library of Congress

Source: Banned Books Week | Banned & Challenged Books

Source: Banned Books Week | Celebrating the Freedom to Read: September 25- October 1, 2016

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