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”, declared Upton Beall Sinclair. This
man is not only an American novelist, essayist, journalist, but
also deeply involved in politics. He has accomplished so
many things throughout his life span, it is tough to compare
him to anyone else. Until Sinclair was in his later life, he
was an unknown failure to many, but then for forty years
after that, he was America’s most important writer.

Sinclair was born in Baltimore on the 20th of
September in 1878. He was born in near poverty conditions
to his dysfunctional family consisting of his father who
drank himself to death, and his mother a southern aristocrat.
He taught himself to read and write by the time he was
five years old. By the time he was 14, he had already
graduated the City College of New York. He furthered his
education by becoming a special student at Columbia
University. He was supporting himself and paying his own
way through his education by writing and selling book. While
at Columbia University he was inspired by another student
to write even more novels. He started writing weekly novels
consisting of more than 30,000 words and selling them as
“half-dime novels”. With the frustration of trying to make it
on such little profit, he left Columbia University.

Once Sinclair left, he started his first real novel entitled
Springtime and Harvest. Publishers did not see his point to
the novel, so they figured no one else would and with much
disappointment, turned down the novel. “In order to
succeed, one must fail at least once” was often a quote
used by Sinclair. He followed this quote often due to the
next couple of novels he wrote. Within the two years, he
wrote four long novels, and all were reviewed negatively
and very few had sales.

1906 was Sinclair’s lucky year. In years earlier, he
would often fight for free speech and write about politics,
but he decided to try a new approach this year. Sinclair is
most famous for the novel he wrote this year entitled The
Jungle. As for the rejection, six publishers turned him down
on the book at first, so Sinclair decided to publish the book
himself. One publisher wrote “ I advise without hesitation
and unreservedly against the publications of this book which
is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels that what is at the
bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire to
help the poor as hatred of the rich.” To prove this publisher
wrong, Sinclair advertised for his book, and received orders
for 972 copies of The Jungle. Within in the next couple of
years, more than 150,000 copies were sold, and the book
was printed in seventeen different languages and was a
best seller all over the world.

During this period of time, the President of the United
States was Theodore Roosevelt. He read The Jungle, and
immediately following he declared an investigation of the
meat-packing industry. Although Roosevelt was not happy
with such a book, he was not happy at what he saw in the
industries he investigated. The impact of this book, had the
same impact as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book called Uncle
Tom’s Cabin.

With the profit made from The Jungle, Sinclair decided
to build the Helicon Hall. This was a utopian community that
contained all of the virtues he believed in for socialism. On
November 1, 1906 this building was opened. Over $30,000
was invested in this utopia. Journalists remarked that the
Helicon Hall was only built for a “free love nest” just to
have mistresses available, but truly it was a communal living
hall for families upholding high moral standards. Sinclair’s
greatest hero was that of Jesus Christ, so to have such
stereotypes journalists should rethink what they might have
said. Not even a year later, on March 7, 1907, Sinclair
awoke to the smell of smoke and cries of fire. He made his
way outside, half burned, and looked back upon his dream
as it went disappeared. “The beautiful utopia was flaming
and roaring, until it crashed in and died away to a dull
glow” Sinclair recalled. Some say that the Helicon Hall was
only built to burn down for insurance collecting, but actually
insurance only paid for about two-thirds of the damage and
Sinclair ended up paying for the other damage. The profit he
made on The Jungle was now lost.

Years would go by, and Sinclair would continue writing
novels, poems, and pretty much everything. He was known
as a Renaissance man