American History / Of “De-Vyled Ham”And Ddt: A Comparison Of The Causes, Effects, And Legacy Of Upton Sinclair’S The Jungle And Rachel Carson’S Silent Spring

Of “De-Vyled Ham”And Ddt: A Comparison Of The Causes, Effects, And Legacy Of Upton Sinclair’S The Jungle And Rachel Carson’S Silent Spring

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Of “De-vyled Ham”and DDT: A Comparison of the Causes, Effects, and Legacy of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Period 2

Maxwell Wang

1906 would see the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, pushing through major reforms of the meatpacking industry and eventually causing the government to take actions to protect the health of its people; almost fifty years later, the publication of Rachel Carson’s novel Silent Spring would invoke a similar, but changed response to the threat of DDT. Although both would lead to government legislation creating major changes, the original intentions of the authors themselves differed, as well as their satisfaction of the results. However, both still leave a legacy for today, as legislation still stands that reflects the widespread reform that ensued. Both Silent Spring and The Jungle, would have wide reaching influences, but with different motivations and different goals in mind.

Although Silent Spring and The Jungle would both create similar reforms, their authors would have much different motivations for writing them. Rachel Carson, before publishing Silent Spring, would major in marine zoology at Pennsylvania Women’s College, where she would develop her interest in the naturalism and conservation going on at the time (Lear, 23). After graduating, she would take a job at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, where she would write about different issues concerning the environment at the time. After writing several books to some success, she would begin work on Silent Spring, as it she would find her naturalist causes to be her impetus. She even later on in her life write to her friends, What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened, and that nothing I could do would be more important.”(Carson, 17) On the contrary, however, Sinclair would not find his motivations from personal experience or interest, but rather from a commission to write about the immigrant workers in the meatpacking business from the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. Unlike Carson, who would find her naturalist roots to be her driving force, Sinclair’s reasons for publishing his groundbreaking work would stem from his ties to the Socialist Party, rather than the actual material itself being covered. Sinclair would even go as to say that he had come to “write the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the Labor movement”(Arthur, 124) Carson and Sinclair would differ greatly on the subject of cause and motivation for their novels, regardless of the similar sized conflict and controversy.

Both Upton Sinclair and Rachel Carson would initially find their books to be extremely difficult to be published. An early version of the Jungle titled An Appeal to Reason would be rejected five times before becoming a bestseller(Young, 467). Carson would face similar trials with her publisher, Houghton Mifflin, which was tempted to suppress the novel after complaints in the news and by major corporations(McLauglin, 2). Both novels in this aspect would face similar treatment after being discouraged from publishing by publishing companies and the public, citing the controversial material as the reason. Even though the material was very different, both Sinclair and Carson would draw similar criticisms for their novels before publication.

But as the novels would still be successfully published, the different public opinion of the two novels would be in completely different aspects of the writing themselves. After reading Upton Sinclair’s social commentary and support of Socialism, the American reader would zone in on approximately four pages of writing discussing the meat factories themselves in the early chapters of the Jungle. Sinclair would write;

“[T]he meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one—there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage.” (Sinclair, 78)

Sinclair would romanticize the poor conditions of the background in which he would set his tale of social crimes against immigrants and the poor in the meatpacking business, which would eventually be drowned out over outrage to his depiction of the meatpacking facilities at the time. Also, Sinclair would not openly criticize the meatpacking business, only depict it in an unfavorable light. On the other hand, however, Carson would write directly and openly about the inverse effects of DDT on the environment, and use them as her focus. She would write;

“These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes — nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the “good” and the “bad,” to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil — all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called “insecticides,” but “biocides.”’(Carson, 64)

Carson would take an extremely bold approach to dealing with her problems by stating directly the inverse effects of DDT, whereas Sinclair would only depict the meatpacking industry for a brief few pages in a descriptive flurry. The two authors would be most debated at different points rather than at the same level.

Also, Sinclair’s novel, which would be classified as historical fiction, would be treated as extremely creditable, whereas Silent Spring would be highly discredited and disputed after publication. Large corporations manufacturing DDT at the time such as Monsanto, Velsicol, and American Cyanamid would dispute and threat lawsuits against Carson, stating she was disclaiming DDT as a product and basing her studies on inconclusive evidence(Lear, 227). However, the Jungle would be extremely well reviewed, even though it would be considered historical fiction, and not actual scientific material like Silent Spring, much less with documented proof. However, it would spark massive riots against the American meatpacking industry, which itself would not turn to fight Sinclair as Carson would later be challenged(Young, 470). The two would not be paralleled in reception, and while both would begin a commotion, only Sinclair would initially be taken seriously.

However, the government investigation into claims made by the two authors in their novels would be different in small aspects, but generally similar. After reading The Jungle for himself, President Teddy Roosevelt would order a series of inspections to confirm the truth of Sinclair’s novel in the Chicago meatpacking district. These inspections would eventually lead to the recommendation to enact legislature to clean up the meatpacking industry and set guidelines for cleanliness and procedure. Eventually, Roosevelt would order the creation of the Food and Drug Administration, in addition to the Meat Inspection Act(Young, 472). For Carson, it would be building public pressure with the support of her novel that would push through the 1972 ban on DDT, after a similar study had been conducted on the effects of DDT. Both novels would push into effect new legislature that would reshape the American perception of these things, regardless of the actions taken before or after.

Later on, however, both Silent Spring and The Jungle would be criticized for pushing far too hard on far too little evidence. A look into the initial reports of the meat inspectors would reveal that the conditions described by Sinclair would often times be exaggerated and distorted(Reed, 4). In reality, these conditions were poor, but not to the extent at which they had been described in The Jungle. Also, studies to see if Rachel Carson’s allegations of DDT causing bald eagle eggshell thinning would also be proven to be false(Murphy, 303). Both books had questionable citations, and would have similar disputes with the legitimacy of the claims. However, by the time these issues had been raised, legislation had already been passed to clean up the meatpacking industry and the ban on DDT was already in effect(Young, 477).

Needless to say, the legacy left behind by both still hold true today, and are best represented by the fact that both the DDT ban and the FDA are still in existence today. Both Sinclair and Carson were able to bring about social reforms that would greatly benefit the people of the United States, disregarding their true motivations and reasons for writing the two novels. The two novels would also influence a generation of writers, even if both novels would influence different people. Rachel Carson would pave the way for a generation of female naturalists such as Sandra Steingraber, who would write in the style of Rachel Carson about the issues of cancer and reproductive health problems. Upton Sinclair would influence a generation of “muckrakers”, after having the term coined by President Roosevelt on his trip to the White House to describe the work that Sinclair had done. Ida Tarbell and other leading muckrakers of the time would take heed from Sinclair’s work and continue to publish their own findings on the fault of America. Even today, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring leave behind a legacy of change for the better, and their influence continues to protect us today.


Arthur, Anthony. Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair. Boston. Random House, 2006.

Carson, Rachel. Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman 1952-1964 An Intimate Portrait of a Remarkable Friendship. New York. Beacon Press, 1995

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York. Houghton Mifflin, 1964.

Lear, Linda. Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, Henry Holt, New York, 1997, Owl Books paperback 1998

Murphy,Priscilla Coit. What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, Amherst. University of Massachusetts Press. 2005

Reed, Lawrence W. "Of Meat and Myth," The Freeman. November 1994

Sinclair, Upton Jr. The Jungle. Mass Market Paperback. New York. Reprinted 2004, 1906.

Young, James Harvey, "The Pig That Fell into the Privy: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Meat Inspection Amendments of 1906," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 1985.

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