Upton Sinclair

"My cause is the cause of a man who has never yet been defeated, and whose whole being is one all-devouring, God-given holy purpose."

Upton Sinclair was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, and short-story writer, whose works reflect socialistic views. He gained public notoriety in 1906 with his novel The Jungle, which exposed the deplorable conditions of the U.S. meat-packing industry. It caused a puplic outcry and ultimately led to the passing of the Meat Inspection Act in 1906.

Early years

Upton Beall Sinclair was born on September 20, 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. His father was an alcoholic and his mother was a teetotaler. When Upton was 10, his father moved them to New York City. His father sold hats during the day and spent the evening in the bars. His family was extremely poor; however, Upton spent short periods of his life with his wealthy grandparents. He later claimed that witnessing those extremes turned him into a socialist.

Upton was an unusually intelligent child. At the age of 14, he enrolled in New York City College. He published his first story in a national magazine at the age of 15. He continued to write stories for newspapers and magazines, earning enough money to pay for his education. By the time he was 17, Upton was able to afford his own apartment.

In 1901, Upton married Meta Fuller, the daughter of a friend of his mother. That year, he published Springtime and Harvest, the story of penniless lovers. The Sinclairs` poverty only got worse following the birth of their son.

Writing to fulfill a calling

However, Sinclair refused to do anything but write. He published The Journal of Arthur Stirling in 1903, and by 1904, he was moving toward realistic fiction writing. He was reading socialist classics and a socialist weekly. In September 1905, Sinclair joined with Jack London, Clarence Darrow and Florence Kelley to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.

In 1906, The Jungle was published and became an immediate success, selling more than 150,000 copies. A best seller overseas, it was published in 17 languages over the next few years. After President Theodore Roosevelt read Jungle, he ordered an investigation into the meat packing industry, and ultimately the passing of the Meat Inspection Act was a result of Sinclair’s book.

With the royalties he earned from Jungle, Sinclair established and supported Helicon Home Colony, a commune for socialist writers, in Englewood, New Jersey. It burned down in 1907; Sinclair suspected it was arson.

He continued to write, and in 1907, Sinclair published The Overman; in 1908, The Metropolis and The Moneychangers. Love’s Pilgrimage was released in 1911. All four were commercially unsuccessful. The Sinclairs` marriage was not happy and ended that year.

In 1912, Sinclair traveled in Europe. Upon returning, he married Mary Craig Kimbroughwith. They remained married until her death in 1961. His third wife, Mary Elizabeth Willis, died in 1967.

A more political bent

By 1917, Sinclair was writing political novels, including King Coal in 1917, and Boston (1928), based on the Sacco-Vanzetti Case, which resulted in the execution of two immigrant anarchists. He also wrote books about religion, including The Profits of Religion in 1918. In 1923, he wrote The Goose-Step and followed it up with The Goslings in 1924; those books were based on education.

In 1934 Sinclair ran for governor of California. His bid failed, but he did receive nearly 900,000 votes. His candidacy aroused the violent opposition of movie magnate Louis B. Mayer, who encouraged many anti-Sinclair clips that were shown at movie theaters as part of the news reels. One that caught the attention of the New York Times, purporting to be an interview with "a shaggy man with bristling Russian whiskers and a menacing look in his eye," ran as follows:

Interviewer: "For whom are you voting?" Man: "Vy, I am foting for Seenclair." Interview: "Why are you voting for Mr. Sinclair?" Man: "Vell, his system worked vell in Russia, vy can`t it vork here?"

In 1940, World’s End began an 11-volume series on American government. The third book in the series, Dragon’s Teeth, based on the rise of Nazism, won Sinclair the Pulitzer Prize in 1943. The prize would be his sole major literary award.

In 1953, Sinclair moved to the remote hamlet of Buckeye, Arizona. He published his autobiography, My Lifetime in Letters, in 1960. He wrote, “In politics and economics, I believe what I have believed ever since I discovered the Socialist movement at the beginning of this century."

A productive life

Upton Sinclair died in his sleep on November 25, 1968, at the Somerset Valley Nursing Home in Bound Brook, New Jersey. He had published more than 90 books. His manuscripts and books are housed at the Lilly Library of Indiana University.

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by Upton Sinclair.

Regarding Writing Style
What life means to me is to put the content of Shelley into the form of Zola. The proletarian writer is a writer with a purpose; he thinks no more of "art for art's sake" than a man on a sinking ship thinks of painting a beautiful picture in the cabin; he thinks of getting ashore — and then there will be time enough for art.
Cosmopolitan, 1906
Regarding World War I
I know you are brave and unselfish people, making sacrifices for a great principle but I cannot join you. I believe in the present effort which the allies are making to suppress German militarism. I would approve of America going to their assistance. I would enlist to that end, if ever there be a situation where I believe I could do more with my hands than I could with my pen.
Letter to the Anti-Enlistment League, 1915
Regarding Art as Propaganda
All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.
Mammonart, 1925
Regarding Christianity
The supreme crime of the church to-day is that everywhere and in all its operations and influences it is on the side of sloth of mind; that it banishes brains, it sanctifies stupidity, it canonizes incompetence.
"The Canonization of Incompetence"

Quotes regarding Upton Sinclair.

By Sinclair Lewis
I did not want to say these unpleasant things, but you have written to me, asking my opinion, and I give it to you, flat. If you would get over two ideas — first that any one who criticizes you is an evil and capitalist-controlled spy, and second that you have only to spend a few weeks on any subject to become a master of it — you might yet regain your now totally lost position as the leader of American socialistic journalism.
Letter, 1928
By H.L. Mencken
You protest, and with justice, each time Hitler jails an opponent; but you forget that Stalin and company have jailed and murdered a thousand times as many. It seems to me, and indeed the evidence is plain, that compared to the Moscow brigands and assassins, Hitler is hardly more than a common Ku Kluxer and Mussolini almost a philanthropist.
Letter in "American Mercury", 1936, at which time it was still true

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Back of the Yards by Jeannette Swist.
The Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago, located in back of the Union Stockyards and composed of Packingtown, Town of Lake, and New City, was th...
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
For nearly a century, the original version of Upton Sinclair's classic novel, which gave impetus to the Progressive Movement, has remained almost enti...