Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature

By Scott S. Derrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
What a Beating Feels Like
AUTHORSHIP, DISSOLUTION, AND MASCULINITY IN UPTON SINCLAIR'S THE JUNGLE

In The Jungle, Upton Sinclair strives to produce a socialist critique of the horrific living and working conditions for turn-of-the-century immigrant laborers in the Chicago stockyards. This account of the brutal poverty that afflicts Jurgis Rudkus and his family, however, blends indistinguishably into an account of Jurgis's subjective terrors of imprisoning familial relationships, terrors expressed in the novel as a gynephobic fear of the maternal body. The vertiginous transport in Jurgis's story between macropolitical critique and irrational dread results, I will argue, from Sinclair's own abject dread of the feminine sources of his writing and the conflicted struggle for authority this dread produces.

In The Jungle, "nature" seems characterized by the threatening fecundity one finds in Darwin's vision. Certainly, nature as we find it 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" (3).1 At the wedding of Jurgis and Ona, Sinclair tells us that the number of babies in attendance was "equal to . . . all the guests invited." In a "collection of cribs and carriages . . . babies slept, three or four together" (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" (29). Odors form a part of this profusion, as do animals. One can smell Packingtown from miles away, with its "elemental odor, raw and crude; it was rich, almost

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