Sinclair’s expose of Chicago’s meatpacking industry produced an immediate decrease in American meat consumption and soon led to the passage of stricter laws regulating the food industry. As an agent of reform, The Jungle fit squarely into the tradition of muckraking journalism, an outgrowth of the progressive movement that dominated American cultural and political spheres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An adjunct to the “trust-busting” fervor that drove political activists to fight for legal restraints against corporate monopolies, muckraking strove to expose in print-and thus, eventually, eradicate-social and political injustice.
Critics analyzing The Jungle’s literary merits often remark on the book’s naturalistic elements, drawing comparisons to other novels that depict humanity as controlled or victimized by social factors. To the extent that The Jungle shows pessimistic determinism, its precedent can be seen in the work of the French naturalistic writer Emile Zola. If examined primarily for its journalistic and inflammatory elements, The Jungle recalls the writing of Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and other pieces of Revolutionary War-era propaganda. Jack London, himself a naturalistic writer, called The Jungle the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of wage slavery, and Sinclair acknowledged a debt to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. If precedents ranging from Zola to Paine to Stowe seem rather wide-ranging, The Jungle is itself a mixed bag, featuring both straightforward narration and political rhetoric, and tempering naturalistic pessimism with socialistic optimism.