What a Beating Feels Like: Authorship, Dissolution, and Masculinity in Sinclair's 'The Jungle.' (Upton Sinclair)

By Derrick, Scott | Studies in American Fiction, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

What a Beating Feels Like: Authorship, Dissolution, and Masculinity in Sinclair's 'The Jungle.' (Upton Sinclair)


Derrick, Scott, Studies in American Fiction


American naturalism owes much of its contemporary power to the success of its efforts to depict a thoroughly decentered subject. The naturalist text typically represents the determining impact of various and sundry social and natural forces on its characters and diminishes the importance of consciousness as the cause of the actions it records. Naturalist style, long criticized for lacking high modernist polish, actually tributes through its rawness to this effect. Rather than presenting themselves as intricate products of careful craftsmen, naturalist fictions such as Sister Carrie or The Sea-Wolf often seem hammered directly into being by a remorseless reality. Such novels ask for interpretation in terms of the broad social, political, and historical contexts favored by contemporary critical practices.

In addition to such broader contexts, however, attention to the figure of the author and to the structure of authoring are crucial to an understanding of the operation of gender in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which contains an unconscious narrative of Sinclair's self-creation as an author. This narrative does not obviate the social, historical, and political content of the text, but it suggests that a complex set of literary dynamics mediates the relation of text and world. These dynamics must be articulated with respect to the specific historical position of the author.

The Jungle is strikingly faithful to some of the most powerful contemporary critical accounts of naturalism, particularly in terms of naturalism's well-known relationship to Darwinian evolutionary thought and its complex genderings. Numerous commentators have argued that Darwinism substantially disrupted inherited patriarchal narratives of the structure of creation. As Christine van Boheemen concisely puts it, Darwin raises the possibility of "a suddenly powerful and prolific Mother Nature dethroning the ancient figure of God the Father."(1) The Origin of Species in many ways conducts an effective dispersal of masculine authority, not only in its stunningly successful promotion of Mother Nature as the engineer of life's forms, but in its own manifold indeterminancies, its imaginative waywardness, its willingness to record and consider even conflicting positions within its own textual borders. In passing into cultural currency, however, Darwinism lent its authority to other constructions of gender, creativity, and selfhood. A potentially feminine "Darwinism" -- using Darwin's proper name as a snyecdoche for a host of cultural forces that Darwin's work both responded to and altered -- generated a host of masculine authorities, among them canonical male naturalist authors like Sinclair, who countered its dispersals with synthesis, who found in its whimsicality and play iron social doctrines which supported aggressive, competitive masculine behaviors.

In Sinclair's The Jungle, "nature" seems characterized by the threatening fecundity one finds in Darwin's vision. Nature in Packingtown is characterized by an anxiety-inducing profusion of life, especially of children. In the first paragraph of the novel, for example, as Marija argues with a carriage driver in two languages, she is pursued by a "swarm of urchins."(2) At the wedding of Jurgis and Ona, Sinclair tells us that the number of babies in attendance was "equal to ... all guests invited." In a "collection of cribs and carriages ... babies slept, three or four together" (p. 5). Later, Sinclair indicates that even the city dump, a place with "an odor for which there are no polite words," is "sprinkled over with children" (p. 29). Odors form a part of this profusion, as do the animals. One can smell Packingtown from miles away, with its "elemental odor, raw and crude; it was rich, almost rancid, sensual, and strong. There were some who drank it in as if it were an intoxicant; there were others who put their handkerchiefs to their faces" (p. 25). The ubiquity of odor is mirrored by the vast number of cattle, described in a way that suggests the vastness and heterogeneity of humanity itself: "as far as the eye can reach there stretches a sea of pens . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What a Beating Feels Like: Authorship, Dissolution, and Masculinity in Sinclair's 'The Jungle.' (Upton Sinclair)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.