American Writers and Radical Politics, 1900–39: Equivocal by Eric Homberger

By Eric Homberger

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He afterwards wrote in the Lancet that these conditions in Packingtown were 'a menace to the health of the civilized world' ... The people whom I talked with there were settlement workers, doctors, policemen, saloon keepers, workingmen and packers' representatives. But the key that opened the most doors to me was Socialism. Representatives of the packing houses, and their interests, immediately attempted to discredit Sinclair's account of the insanitary conditions. In reply, Sinclair prepared affidavits, eye-witness accounts, legal records and other circumstantial material.

He tells them about Jackson, a workman at the Sierra Mills who lost an arm in an industrial accident, and challenges them to look into the case to see if his model of class relations, or theirs, is more appropriate. The cool logic of his argument is quickly replaced by a stomach-wrenching appeal to emotion which assaults Everhard's listeners (and the book's readers) with equal ferocity: ... the gown you wear is stained with blood. The food you eat is a bloody stew. The blood of little children and strong men is dripping from your very roof-beams.

His subjects disgust her. 'Oh, it is degrading! It is not nice! ' Both Gertrude and Ruth reflect the taste prevalent among the editors of magazines: his manuscripts, with their rough realism, are unpublishable. 'He was puzzled by countless short stories', wrote London, written lightly and cleverly ... but without vitality or reality. Life was so strange and wonderful, filled with immensity of problems, of dreams, and of heroic toils, and yet these stories dealt only with the commonplaces oflife.

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