Author: Sherry Helms
“Human beings suffer agonies, and their sad fates become legends; poets write verses about them and playwrights compose dramas, and the remembrance of past grief becomes a source of present pleasure – such is the strange alchemy of the spirit.”
― Upton Sinclair in his Dragon’s Teeth
On 20th September, 1878, born a literary prodigy who later came to be called as “a man with every gift except humor and silence”. He was Upton Sinclair, a famous writer of American Realism era and a social crusader from California. We wish him a very Happy Birthday.
Born to a reputed but financially straitened family, Sinclair began earning money by writing at 15. With his socialist approach, he broke new ground in the kind of journalism known as “muckraking” that refers to reform-minded journalists. The amalgamation of his socialist mind and high literary spirit produced nearly one hundred reality-oriented books.
His muckraking novel “The Jungle (1906)“ is the sublime example of American Literary Realism. An assignment from a socialist weekly led him to write this novel that earned him the first popular success in literature. The Jungle was an expose of the appalling and unsanitary conditions in the U. S. meat-packing industry that caused a public upheaval and invariably, contributed in part to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. Because of its anti-capitalist content, this novel received initial rejections from publishers, but once it got published, it caught immediate success and appreciation from personalities like Winston Churchill and the then President Theodore Roosevelt.
Between 1940 and 1953, Sinclair wrote a series of 11 novels featuring a central character named Lanny Budd, a socialist, art expert, and grandson of an American arms manufacturer. His Pulitzer Prize winning novel Dragon’s Teeth is one of them, covering Nazi takeover of Germany during the 1930s. In this book, Sinclair portrays the men and women caught in the onslaught of Nazi’s terror, a holocaust from which few managed to escape.
The contemporary writer Edmund Wilson, said about him: “Practically alone among the American writers of his generation, Sinclair put to the American public the fundamental questions raised by capitalism in such a way that they could not escape them”.
Besides his literary power, Upton Sinclair had been one-time candidate for Governor of California in 1934, which he was only narrowly defeated. During the economic crisis of the 1930s, he organized the EPIC (End Poverty in California) socialist reform movement. He ran repeatedly but unsuccessfully for public office as a Socialist.
One can see this prodigious personality very closely in his autobiographical book American Outpost (1932), which was reworked and extended in The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962).