The Jungle as Metaphor in Sinclair’s The Jungle and Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle
In his defining work, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair portrays the horrors of turn of the century meat-packing practices
in Chicago, while purporting to shed light upon the exploitative and pervasive nature of capitalism itself. Throughout the narrative, Sinclair utilizes the jungle as a metaphor for the
lawless, social Darwinistic, dehumanizing forces prevalent in both Chicago and the world at large. Nearly eighty years later, the equating of urban setting with untamed, wild space was also
expressed in the work of another artist, Guns N’ Roses front man Axel Rose. In “Welcome to the Jungle,” his harrowing depiction of urban life in 1980’s Los Angeles, Rose explores many of the
same themes prevalent in the novel. Just as Sinclair presents industrial capitalism as a machine that ravages workers such as Jurgis Rudkos both physically and mentally, Rose offers, “Let me
bring you to your nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh knees,” as if imploring the listener to submit to one’s own subjugation.
In both works, the city is depicted in the role of tempter. Jurgis and his family, much like many immigrants of the
era, leave their homeland of Lithuania for Chicago, tempted by the possibility of economic opportunities. The listener to “Welcome to the Jungle” is lured in by the promise, “We got fun and
games.” Jurgis and many other working class men are drawn to the siren call of alcohol as perhaps the only mean to dull their suffering, while the speaker in Rose’s song assures the listener,
“We got your disease,” representing a multitude of means to negate one’s sense of self. Additionally, both authors are concerned with the role of women in the capitalist society, Sinclair
depicting their exploitation through the commodification of sexuality, and Rose exploring their exploitation by Axel Rose.
The Jungle and “Welcome to the Jungle” share the tone of an appeal to a particular ideal audience. Sinclair’s
novel is dedicated to “The Working Men of America,” and the narrative itself clearly has a polemical nature. The reader is meant to undergo the same educational process experienced by Jurgis,
who, through his many trials and tribulations becomes a convert to socialism. “Welcome to the Jungle” ’s ideal listener is clearly delineated in the 2nd-person statement, “You’re a
very sexy girl.” The speaker is hoping the aforementioned “fun and games” will lure this girl into the jungle setting, possibly so he can “hear [her] scream.” While Sinclair is directly
calling for an radical restructuring of the capitalist system, Rose’s narrative seems to be driven by the presence of “my…my…my serpentine,” a symbol which has fostered endless rounds of
inconclusive debates among a range of critical approaches, from strict formalism to Lacanian psychoanalysis. The initial similarities of the two works dissipate at their conclusions. The
1906 version of The Jungle ends with a direct address to the reader, proclaiming “Chicago will be ours!” and attempting to create a sense of identity between the reader and the
socialist movement. “Welcome to the Jungle” ends on a far more pessimistic note, as the speaker states, “You’re gonna die!” Whether this is a result of the predatory nature of the city or
the violent proclivities of the speaker is still unclear.
The most pronounced difference between these texts may be the issue of form. The Jungle is almost three hundred
pages of words, words like “proletariat” and “abominations.” You have to think in your head to picture things like “a factory” or a “Lithuanian.” “Welcome to the Jungle” has a
video. You don’t even have to picture the words. Also, the novel was written by a guy named “Upton.” “Welcome to the Jungle” was co-written by guys named “Axel” and “Slash.” How
badass is that? In conclusion, “Welcome to the Jungle” rocks so much harder than The Jungle, even if The Jungle rocked a little bit. Which it doesn’t.
© Copyright 2016 Ryan McClure. All rights reserved.