All day long the blazing midsummer sun beat down upon that square mile of abominations: upon tens of thousands of cattle crowded into pens whose wooden floors stank and steamed contagion; upon bare, blistering, cinder-strewn railroad tracks, and huge blocks of dingy meat factories, whose labyrinthine passages defied a breath of fresh air to penetrate them; and there were not merely rivers of hot blood, and carloads of moist flesh, and rendering vats and soap caldrons, glue factories and fertilizer tanks, that smelt like the craters of hell—there were also tons of garbage festering in the sun, and the greasy laundry of the workers hung out to dry, and dining rooms littered with food and black with flies, and toilet rooms that were open sewers.
This descriptive passage from Chapter 26 portrays the rank and festering physical environment in which the Packingtown laborers are forced to live, helping to explain why Jurgis found prison so preferable. The passage also shows off the lurid, pseudo-naturalistic style that Sinclair adopted for the novel, which matches his flair for physical description with his desire to shock and disgust his readers. He captures the disgusting filth and general unbearableness of Packingtown in the images of “floors [that] stank and steamed contagion” and “blistering . . . railroad tracks.” Furthermore, he breaks down the meat-packing plant into the raw, nauseating elements of “rivers of hot blood” and “carloads of moist flesh.” This repulsiveness plagues not only the factories but also the laborers and their living quarters; they have “greasy laundry” and sordid bathrooms. Sinclair deliberately makes his readers feel uncomfortable in the hopes of stirring up their sympathy, and The Jungle is full of vivid and stomach-churning passages such as this one.