As a convinced socialist and eager advocate of unpopular doctrines, as an exposer of social conditions that would otherwise be screened away from the public eye, the most influential journals of his country were as a rule arraigned against him. Though always a poor man, though never willing to grant to publishers the concessions essential for many editions and general popularity, he was maliciously represented to be a carpet knight of radicalism and a socialist millionaire. He has several times been obliged to change his publisher, which goes to prove that he is no seeker of material gain. The conditions described in the two books are, however, essentially different. While Zola's working-men are all natives of France, one meets in Sinclair's book a motley variety of European emigrants, speaking a Babel of languages and therefore debarred from forming some sort of association to protect themselves against being exploited by the anonymous limited Company. Notwithstanding this natural bar against united action on the part of the wage-earning slaves, the Company feels far from at ease and jealously guards its interests against any attempt of organising the men. A young American of the upper class, with great sympathy for the downtrodden and an honest desire to get a first-hand knowledge of their conditions in order to help them, decides to take employment in a mine under a fictitious name and dressed like a working-man. His unusual way of trying to obtain work arouses suspicion. He is believed to be a professional strike-leader sent out to organise the miners against their exploiters, and he is not only refused work, but thrashed mercilessly. When finally he succeeds in getting inside, he discovers with growing indignation the shameless and inhuman way in which those who unearth the black coal are being exploited. These are the fundamental ideas of the book, but they give but a faint notion of the author's poetic attitude. Most beautifully is this shown in Hal's relation to a young Irish girl, Red Mary. She is poor, and her daily life harsh and joyless, but nevertheless her wonderful grace is one of the outstanding features of the book. The first impression of Mary is that of a Celtic Madonna with a tender heart for little children. She develops into a Valküre of the working-class, always ready to fight for the worker's right
About Upton Sinclair
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Published December 27, 2012
by Library of Alexandria.
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