Wednesday, November 5, 2014

U.S. and U.S!

Chris Bachelder's novel, U.S.!, is both means of praise and pity for Upon Sinclair. While Bachelder recognizes Sinclair's passion and determination by making him a character capable of enduring multiple assassinations and resurrections--a process that Sinclair becomes so used to he lists it on a course syllabus like a simple leave of absence--he also acknowledges the futility of his efforts. Sinclair's activities, though sincere, are met in the novel with similar reactions of his original time. In 1906, Sinclair's aspirations for America were too extreme, which seems to be the case each time he is resurrected. The public of each reincarnation, however, do not have anywhere to redirect their fear of extreme, unusual political philosophies like Socialism, as they did when Sinclair published The Jungle, and thus react to Sinclair's ideals with violence. The demeanor of the audience just before his assassination at Bulldawg County in 1987 is one example. This repetitive sequence of events, Sinclair's resurrection (usually at the hands of young leftists who feel they have no other ammunition for change), the vehement, sometimes unintentional profession of his beliefs followed by a negative reaction in the environment around him, ultimately leading to his death, is Bachelder's way of pointing out how the American public never was, never is, and never will be ready to take on Sinclair's ideals. America's unwillingless reignites Sinclair's determination each time he is brought back to life, creating a vicious cycle of tumult and death.
Let's revisit the frustration of those who resurrect Sinclair. Several of the chapters in Bachelder's novel are narrated by these young leftists in first person. Barring the ones told from Sinclair's viewpoint, most contain a mix of admiration and realization. The beginning chapter, for example, is narrated by a character who has obviously studied and followed Sinclair before, given away by small things such as his knowledge of Sinclair's partiality for Dr. Pepper. As their direct interaction begins, however, the narrator realizes the frailty that Sinclair is burdened with. In a later chapter a different resurrector takes Sinclair to his uncle's house by the lake and continuously alludes to Sinclair developing madness over the creation of socialist America. The chapter ends with that narrator still following Sinclair mostly because he has no other way to incite change.
This plot of death and resurrection plays on a sense of melodrama that Sinclair himself used in his novels. In his most notable book, The Jungle, he puts the main character through trial after trial, killing off his family members one by one as a means to show the evil of capitalism. Each time his characters are victimized, the guilt can be traced back to the American industry in some way. In Bachelder's novel, Sinclair is victimized by the public and subsequently, his own efforts for change. He is constantly and repeatedly put through the pain of coming alive again for the sake of his ideals and his vision of America, only to be shot down by some part of America that fears radicalism. Both characters incite sympathy because they must endure physical and emotional pain--Jurgis injured on the job many times and must watch his family suffer for no justified reason while Sinclair is brought alive again and again only to watch his beliefs crash and burn. Despite this use of dark melodrama, Bachelder's novel contrasts sharply against Sinclair writing in that it manages to be comical and melodramatic. Sinclair's writing is heavy, blunt; you can tell that he writing is simply a tool for him to broadcast his ideals. Bachelder himself points this out many times in his book. In reaction, he uses Sinclair's odd habits (dropping everything he's doing to scribble furiously about an idea he is suddenly struck with) and strange quirks (his unfortunate penchant for exclamation points in unnecessary places) to instill a dry sense of humor in his novel. This makes Sinclair as Bahcelder's character inherently different from Sinclair's own suffering protagonists--he is endeared to the reader because he appears more human, a sympathy that can translate over to his cause. Ultimately, Bachelder recognizes both Sinclair's merits and faults as an author and a figure and seeks to resolve his ideals towards something that the public can stomach (pun intended) better than what Sinclair put out in his (first) lifetime.

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