Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle

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I first read Upton Sinclair’s great muckraking novel The Jungle in high school and the book made an immediate impression on me. The horrific description of the careless processing of animal products on the slaughtering floor of the Chicago Stockyards made me think twice when my mother offered me brisket or lamb chops for dinner. I think that I abstained from eating hot dogs for a year.
The Jungle’s protagonist, the Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus, represents the Everyman of the tens of thousands of European newcomers struggling to make a living and support their families in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth.
Sinclair’s The Jungle still resonates controversy today. On the evening of April 14, at 6:30 pm, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and the Jane Addams-Hull House Museum are co-sponsoring an event centered on The Jungle. A discussion will be led by Northwestern Associate Professor Bill Savage. There will also be a special performance by Andrew Rathgeber from the Oracle Theater.
This free event is open to the public and is at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted in Chicago.

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Sydney J. Harris

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As an impressionable teenager in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I eagerly awaited my father coming home from work with his early edition of the Chicago Daily News, so that I could read my favorite columnist, Sydney J. Harris. Harris wrote a daily column entitled “Strictly Personal” where he covered all matters of topics, especially those that were political, educational, philosophical and cultural.
Harris began writing “Strictly Personal” in 1944, and continued writing it for the News until 1978, when Chicago greatest afternoon paper closed down the presses. He continued the column for another six years at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Harris wrote with sagacity and wit, and had a reputation of penning aphorisms that remain with us today as memorable quotes. Sort of Chicago’s answer to Oscar Wilde. Two of my favorites are “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows” and “Happiness is a direction, not a place.”

Despres and Daley

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Alderman Leon Despres and Mayor Richard J. Daley had parallel careers in Chicago city politics for twenty years. They were first elected to their respective positions in 1955. Despres won five elections and served twenty years; Daley won six elections and served twenty-one years. Yet the contrast between the two men couldn’t be starker.
Despres was liberal and sophisticated; Daley was parochial and coarse. Their politics reflected the neighborhoods they lived in, Despres’ integrated Hyde Park and Daley’s segregated Bridgeport. Daley gloried in the aura of being the most powerful political boss in the nation. Despres never wavered from his reformist principles. Dialog between them in the public forum was impossible, evidenced most blatantly by Daley shutting off Despres’ microphone as he spoke at City Council meetings.