The Jungle

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12274

Have you been told not to eat something that fell on the floor or that has flies on it? An early writer exposed food and conditions more disgusting than that, and this is the story of that story!


People and Their Environment, United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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“I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

  • What does this quote mean?
  • Have you ever enjoyed having or doing something and then discovered it was terrible for you?

For example, maybe you love eating candy bars but found out they are full of sugar that disrupts the digestive system and can make you sick.

This is similar to what happened to people across the United States in the early 1900s when they learned the meat they were eating was not being packaged safely, causing it to be very unhealthy.

This discovery came from Upton Sinclair.

Sinclair was a writer and a political activist, meaning he used his writing to try to bring political change to America.

He was raised in a low-income family and grew to hate how upper-class families were treated compared to people experiencing poverty. To expose how people experiencing poverty were treated at work, he began conducting research for a book that would reveal how workers were treated in meatpacking factories.

Meatpacking factories are places where meat is processed and packaged before it is sold in markets.

  Upton Sinclair, three-quarter length portrait, seated on desk, facing front


While conducting his research, Sinclair found something alarming. The workers were forced to work in a harsh environment, and the conditions were not sanitary for processing food.

This discovery caused the main idea of Sinclair's book, The Jungle, to become twofold: he wanted to showcase both the harsh work environment and the unsanitary conditions of meatpacking factories.

Front cover of The Jungle (1906), written by Upton Sinclair and published by Doubleday, Page & Company  

The Jungle was a fictional story, but many of the events in the book describe things that happened while Sinclair worked undercover in a meatpacking factory.

The story is about a Lithuanian immigrant, Jurgis Rudkus, who moves to America with his family for a better life. Rudkus takes a job at a meatpacking factory in Chicago. Even though he works long hours, he cannot support his family with the small wages he receives, and his family is forced to take jobs at the factory.

At the factory, Rudkus is severely injured while working, the unsafe factory conditions kill his father, and his wife is abused by her boss.


In addition to displaying how poorly the family is treated at the factory, Sinclair describes how meat is processed.

Some of the descriptions include using rotten meat to make sausage, using products with mold and chemicals in the meat, dropping meat on the floor where it was covered in dirt and sawdust and then packaged, workers spitting on meat, rats in the factory crawling on the meat, and factory workers rarely washing their hands before touching the meat.

When Americans read The Jungle, they were seriously disturbed to know what had touched and what was in the meat they were eating.

When President Theodore Roosevelt read the novel, he said things had to change and requested inspections of the meatpacking factories in the United States. The inspections revealed much of what Sinclair wrote about to be true.

As a result, the following acts were passed by Congress in 1906.

Pure Food and Drug Act

This act required active ingredients to be listed on the packaging for all medications and put measures in place to check that medications were being appropriately labeled. It also said that a licensed pharmacist could only sell prescription medications.

Regarding food, the act prohibited using diseased and rotten food. Most importantly, the act started the Food and Drug Administration, a government agency responsible for testing all food and medication before they can be sold.

Meat Inspection Act

This act required all meat products to be processed and packed in sanitary conditions, and said meat could not be misbranded when sold to the public.

While Americans were upset about how their food was being processed, they paid little attention to how the workers were treated within the novel.

This caused Sinclair to say, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

  • What do you think he meant by this statement?

Upton was discouraged that Americans only seemed to care about the food they were eating and did not care about the working conditions for many low-income Americans.

The Jungle changed the way Americans looked at food and forced the government to put measures in place that protected Americans from food processed in unsanitary conditions.

  • How would you feel if you found out the food you were eating was being packaged in a factory like the one described in The Jungle?
  • Why do you think the factory owners allowed these conditions?

Move to the Got It? section to examine some excerpts from The Jungle.

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