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Campus Classics

Jan-Feb 2008

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Professor Jonathan Beecher Field shares his thoughts on Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

I enjoy reading The Jungle in the new Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with my sophomore American Lit survey. The appeal of the novel is obvious, especially with the handsome Charles Burns cover the trick is getting the students who show up for the legendary gross-out scenes to stick around and consider the larger import of Sinclair's novel. The various available editions help make this point, even as they offer a quick and dirty introduction to print culture and book history. To frame the novel and the introduction to this edition by Eric "Fast Food Nation" Schlosser, I share some excerpts from the Afterword from the 2001 Signet edition, by none other than Dr. Barry Sears, of The Zone diet fame. Sears manages to reduce Sinclair's message to an ode to safe protein that is oddly reminiscent of Gen. Ripper's obsession with "precious bodily fluids" in Dr. Strangelove. Turning to Schlosser's introduction, students can see how he shifts the focus from the dangers meat poses to its consumers to the dangers it poses to its producers. With this momentum, it is easier to help students see that the novel itself is far more concerned with industry than with meat, and with the welfare of working men and women, rather than consumers. This new edition both illustrates and explains Sinclair's complaint that he had "aimed at the public's heart and by accident hit its stomach."

Jonathan Beecher Field
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Clemson University
Course: "Engl 206: Survey of American Literature, 1850-1950"