I’m in the process of reading Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, about the Chicago meat packing industry. Jargis, the main character, heads to America to make his fortune and is met with misfortune after misfortune after misfortune. He seems to survive but just barely and gradually becomes the worse for the wear. He ultimately falls in with what Sinclair dubs as “high class criminals” and things get better for him but only because he resorts to criminal acts.
I once heard it said that it was not money that corrupts, but poverty.
I have not had a happy experience reading Sinclair’s book. But at the same time, I’ve been immensely relieved reading this book.
It is depressing, nothing goes right, the people Jargis love all die and he has to give up his morality and decency to survive.
His struggles mirror my own over the last year and a half all too closely. At the same time, this book descriptively elaborates for me that not only could my situation be far worse, it describes in painful detail just exactly how much worse and in what ways.
After two really poor marital choices, I am in the same boat many people my age are. I’m over 40, single and reeling financially from a divorce that left me with more month at the end of my money than I care to experience. I own my house, but I couldn’t sell it for what I owe. It is a real fixer and needs more work done to maintain it than I can afford right now, and not being handy, the task of learning to do any of it myself is nothing short of overwhelming and terrifying. Of course, tonight the drains backed up as they usually do at this time of the year because of roots growing into the drainage pipes. I can’t call the plumber because it would be extra charges and I just paid all the bills and there isn’t enough left over anyway. Hmmm, which bills do I pay late on now? This last year and a half has felt like one onslaught of financial disaster after another and with four children at home, it isn’t like I can get a second job in the evenings. It’s been a tough year. In many ways, I feel the hopelessness of Jargis, working and working and falling further and further behind.
On the other hand, my experience is vastly different than Jargis’ and I am grateful. I haven’t had any of my children die. I get paid pretty decent wages, which, as the debts get paid off will become more than they seem to be now. And, unlike Jargis, I am making progress in a positive direction, just not as quickly or painlessly as I would otherwise wish. I’m not transplanted to another country where I don’t know the language and the rules of the society. I enjoy my job and do not have to do dull labor day in and day out. I do own my own home and don’t have to worry when a landlord will evict me because they want to sell their home. I am able to make my payments and foreclosure is not a reality for me, like it is for so many others across the country in these discouraging economic times. My experience is nowhere near Jargis’ on so many levels and as I read this book, I am more and more appreciative of the times I live in and the fact that I really do have so much.
I’m still really peeved that the drains backed up tonight.
I wonder if, when I look back on this period of my life, I will remember it as Dickens said, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” ?