Melodrama was extremely prevalent during the time that Sinclair wrote The Jungle, due to the social surroundings. The virtue of the proletariat was again rewarded in stories where the evil aristocratic villain was overcome by the power of good. The homelessness that the audience now felt in their new capitalist world was treated by the comfort of melodrama, much the way such feelings would have once been quelled by the comfort of faith and religion. This loss of religion, accompanied by the anxiety of a new capitalist world led to widespread anxiety and feelings of tremendous instability and insecurity, something that is not only demonstrated in Sinclair’s book, but also in the Communist Manifesto.
There is a clear void of religion in Upton Sinclair’s melodramatic tale The Jungle. The story, which I actually read junior year of high school, follows a family of Lithuanian immigrants who come to America in search of the American dream. Their virtue and determination is evident from the start, but so it the hopelessness of their situation. It is clear that to get ahead in the capitalist America, one must drop the preconceived values of American virtue and become a cog in the machinery of corruption and sin. The sense of instability, homelessness, and insecurity is both clear and pervasive. Neither religion, nor any other sacred comfort can be found to defeat these feelings from modernity and capitalism. Sinclair gives us the image that life in America seems morally broke. Around every corner there is a lack of virtue being rewarded—corrupt politicians win elections, pimps make healthy livings, and so on and so forth. It is made evident that capitalism in America has adopted a secularist standpoint and that has left a void in the first chapter of The Jungle.
The introduction of socialism by Sincalir into the plot makes for socialism becoming the indirect hero, riding in to conquer the villain and save the innocent victims. It is left untold whether socialism does conquer capitalism in the story, as the hope was that the melodramatic piece of fiction would lead to the real world defeat of capitalism by socialism. It is basically a cry to arms, which is essentially why The Jungle is seen as such a powerful work. It elicits great sympathy for the plight of the proletariat, and then gives a realistic outline for how this wrong can be corrected and order restored. People must come together, organize and work towards a common good. The feeling of victimization is overwhelming, but the feeling of what must be done to take action, collectivize and defeat evil is graspable and seems entirely possible and manageable. It is clear that Sinclair uses melodrama to effectively isolate capitalism as a villain and to ignite the fire that was needed to bring about Socialism.
U.S! by Chris Bachedler without a doubt treats the topic of Sinclair himself in an interesting manor. At the center of the novel there are two camps, of good and evil: those helping Sinclair each time he rises from the dead and those opposed to him. Or at least that’s how I saw the book.
To me it seems as though Bachelder wanted to almost recreate this idea that Sinclair puts in place in The Jungle, this idea of hope and despair that came about due to the failure of the American Dream. Bachelder brings back Sinclair, only to have him assassinated. He gives us hope that Sinclair will somehow help the characters deal with their problem that, “things aren’t fair,” only to have him assassinated by others (10).
But in the end, I do not think that Bachelder is condemning Sinclair. I think that he without a doubt does poke fun at his writing style, if we look on Page 170, Bachelder presents the reader with a box of exclamation points only to point out that, “there are 1,539 exclamation points in Oil,” and to essentially maybe condemn Sinclair for having been too emotionally driven, but this does not mean that Bachelder does not agree with Sinclair and his views.
By choosing to bring back Sinclair, it could be argued that Bachedler is almost victimizing him, and saying that those who are wrong are those who are rejecting his ideas. To me, this brings up an important idea. Is Bachelder trying to suggest that it is time that we in fact bring back the ideas of Sinclair?
When asked in an interview what Bachelder had in mind when it came to his novel, he responds by saying, “I wanted to create an experience, but it’s not as simple as saying I want people to stop being apathetic, but maybe in some way to think more carefully about cycles of hope and despair. Ultimately, I think and I hope Sinclair’s a sympathetic character, because he just doesn’t give up. Just doesn’t give up.” This response to me is interesting for it is clear that Sinclair to in his numerous novels was trying to ignite people to take action, so to me it is clear after reading this response that Bachelder does respect Sinclair, and is maybe telling us as readers to take what Sinclair has written and learn from it.