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Though muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair wrote this novel to portray the life of the immigrant in the United States, readers have focussed on the large portion addressing the corruption of the American meatpacking industry during the early-20th century, so that the book is now often interpreted and taught as only an exposure of the industry of meatpacking. Sinclair's own preoccupation however was the poverty, absence of social programs, unpleasant living and working conditions and hopelessness prevalent among the working class, which is contrasted with the deeply-rooted corruption of those in power. His observations of the state of turn-of-the-century labor were placed front and center for the American public to see (much as Charles Dickens' observations on the poor of London were placed before the English public in the very different but similarly motivated "A Christmas Carol"). Based on undercover work done in 1904, the novel was first published in serial form in 1905 in the socialist newspaper "Appeal to Reason". Sinclair spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards at the behest of that magazine's publishers. After multiple rejections by publishers who found it too shocking for publication, he funded the first printing himself. It was published by Doubleday, Page & Company on February 28, 1906 and has been in print ever since.

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