Upton Sinclair 20 September, 1878-25 November, 1968 “Why should some people be rich and others be poor?” -Upton Sinclair Socialism refers to an ideology and the state of government based on that ideology. Socialists claim to stand for the values of equality, social justice, cooperation, progress, individual freedom, and happiness. They seek to realize these values by the abolition of the private-enterprise economy, also called capitalism, and its replacement by “public ownership,” a system of social or state control over production and distribution. The basis of socialism also lies on the abolition of the conflict of the social classes. Throughout history, the poor have always been oppressed by the rich, ruling class.
Under socialism, the bourgeois, or middle class, would rule while practicing equality of all classes. One of the foremost advocates of socialism in this country is Upton Sinclair. Born Upton Beall Sinclair on September 28, 1878 in Baltimore, Upton witnessed the best and worst of the American social classes. His father, Upton Beall, was an heir of an affluent Southern family, a salesman, and an alcoholic. Alcoholism caused his fathers death as well as his promotion of Prohibition. Sinclairs 1931 book, The Wet Parade, was his appeal to America for Prohibition.
Sinclairs childhood was spent in poverty and moderate wealth. One night, he would sleep in a vermin infested slum while the next he slept in a posh home. This lifestyle gave birth to his quest for social justice with only his writing as a tool. Uptons understanding of both worlds caused him to realize that it was not fair for some people to be rich while many others are poor. His first story was a memoir about a pet bird he used to clear a colored boy of arson. Argosy magazine paid him twenty-five dollars for that story.
He began writing pulp fiction to establish economic independence from his alcoholic father. He graduated from the College of the City of New York and then became a graduate student at Columbia University. He was drawn to the Romantic poets, such as Shelley. This inspiration moved Upton to write serious literature which used romantic idealism as their central theme. Sinclair joined the Socialist Party in 1902.
He immediately reflected this in his writing. His focus shifted onto the abuses of capitalism and promoted socialism as a cure. He founded Helicon Home Colony, a cooperative socialist colony, in 1906 in Englewood, New Jersey. He joined the Democratic Party, and with his 1934 platform, EPIC (End Poverty in California), he almost won the governorship of California. He also had another unsuccessful attempt to be governor as well as a senator.
Upton Sinclairs writing had its problems. Literary critics called him a “poor writer with artistic limitations” while his contemporary authors thought of him as one of the greatest novelists of all time. He never characterized or developed the characters in his books. He did not focus on complicated, well-structured plots. He spoke to America, primarily the working class but also the wealthy and middle class. He had experienced the entire spectrum of social classes and knew and sympathized with all of them.
His writings were on the level of the proletariat, the people for and to he truly wrote. Here is a list of some of his most notable books and their themes. The Jungle (1906) exposed the poor conditions of the life of a worker in the Chicago stockyards. The Metropolis (1908) described the degradation of morals in capitalistic society. The Profits of Religion (1918) attacked organized religion as an instrument of capitalist exploitation.
Jimmie Higgins (1919) urged pacifism. Oil! (1927) probed the oil scandals of the Harding administration. Boston (1928) exposed the injustice of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. Dragons Teeth (1942) was the only one out of his more than eighty books that won an award, the Pulitzer Prize. It was the third out of eleven in the Lanny Budd series, which analyzed the nature and problems of Communism, fascism, and capitalistic democracy. One essay written about him likened his writing to the two books of Saint Peter.
Sinclairs writing reflects Peters. Peters writing is confusing with poor word choice. Peters writings may not be up to the highest standards, but they contain many truths. Sinclairs writings might lack eloquence, but their value as social justice propaganda makes up for that. Upton dedicated his life to battling injustices through literature, but to no avail.
Even though The Jungle instigated the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act, Sinclair once noted that it had not helped the workers at all. He was a member of an unpopular political party, the Socialists. He faced the insurmountable obstacles of government and big business to try to help the poor as a muckraker. He exposed corruption and scandals. Even after all that, his works helped few then and only now serve as an inspiration for many. That is his greatest achievement.
Works Cited Grollier Multimedia Encyclopedia. 1996. Articles: Sinclair, Upton; Socialism The Socialist Looks at Literature. http://venus.twu.edu/~s 2stone/upton.html The World Book Encyclopedia. 1966. Article: Sinclair, Upton.