ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2007 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 53, No 3 - Fall 2007
Editor of this issue: M.G Slavėnas

Book Review

Giedrius Subačius. Upton Sinclair: The Lithuanian Jungle. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2006, 113 pages. $31.00.

It is certainly fitting that this book should appear on the one-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Upton Sinclair’s sensational novel. Evidence of the continued relevance of Sinclair’s novel is the fact that on April 23 of this year an Associated Press report entitled ”For packers it’s still a ‘Jungle’ out there” by Sharon Cohen appeared on the front page of our small-town newspaper, The Centre Daily Times. Sinclair’s famous statement: ”I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach” is quoted (Eby 2003: 351). In Sinclair’s case, of course, the result of the poor aim was positive: the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act on June 30, 1906 (Eby 2003: ix). 

Sinclair’s novel first appeared in 1905 in serialized form in the leading American socialist periodical Appeal to Reason, a version that Subačius (p. 6) labels First Edition. Later in 1906, the novel was republished with some changes by Doubleday, Page and Company (Eby 2003: xi-xii). 

In Chapter 1, “Sinclair’s Sources and His Choice of Lithuanian Characters” (pp. 6-15), Subačius discusses the critical question of why Sinclair chose Lithuanian characters, namely, Jurgis Rudkus and his family, to be the protagonists of his novel. Several reasons have been advanced. One may have been Sinclair’s chance stumbling on a Lithuanian wedding. According to Sinclair’s own report on the party, as quoted by Subačius (p. 10): ”I watched the people ... Everything which I had previously planned seemed in some miraculous way to fit in with them ... the opening chapters of The Jungle began to take form. There were my characters – the bride, the groom, the old mother and father, the boisterous cousin, the children, the three musicians, everybody.” A second reason may have been the article ”From Lithuania to the Chicago Stockyards” which appeared in 1904 in The Independent, purportedly by a Lithuanian, Antanas Kaztauskis, but actually written by Ernest Poole (reprinted in Eby 2003: 388-395). Subačius points out (p. 11) that the name Kaztauskis is certainly a misprint for Kazlauskas. One can easily see how a printer not knowing Polish or Lithuanian could mistake the Polish barred ł for a t. Subačius writes that Kazlauskas is one of the most widespread surnames in Lithuania. The late Lithuanian linguist Jonas Kazlauskas once told me that his surname was the most common Lithuanian surname and that his first name Jonas was the most common Lithuanian first name. Evidence of this may perhaps be seen in the fact that a second Jonas Kazlauskas has become famous as a basketball coach in contemporary Lithuania. The purported autobiography of Antanas Kaztauskis, describing his life in Lithuania, his immigration to the United States, and the chance attendance at a Lithuanian wedding were probably crucial in Sinclair’s choice of characters for his novel (p. 15). 

In Chapter 2, “The Lithuanian Language” (pp. 17-57), Subačius writes that Sinclair enjoyed studying foreign languages and, by the time he arrived at the Chicago stockyards, he was able to read German, French and Italian (which he had studied on his own) and had a good knowledge of Latin and ancient Greek. Sinclair had a self-imposed rule that he should remember every word he read. Subačius asks whether he applied this rule to Lithuanian and suggests that if it hadn’t been for his interest in foreign languages Sinclair would never have included Lithuanian words in his novel. According to Subačius (p. 18): ”Being fluent in several languages made him (Sinclair) well aware that the usage of a specific language evoked a special aura for the text... A trace of linguistic ostentation in front of his non-Lithuanian audience is palpable. Sinclair could not elude the temptation to demonstrate his knowledge of the language.” In discussing a placard on the advantages of home owning and the failure of the translator to translate “Home Sweet Home” into Lithuanian Sinclair wrote: ”...perhaps because Lithuanian is not hospitable to poets. Most persons would admit that it might prove a difficult matter to be sentimental in a language in which a sob is known as a gukcziojimas and a smile as nusiszypsojimas.” (FE 37; Ch 4). In the 1906 edition (p. 46), the sentence was changed to read: ”Perhaps the translator found it a difficult matter to be sentimental in a language in which a sob is known as a gukcziojimas and a smile as nusiszypsojimas.” I wonder what Justinas Marcinkevičius, Tomas Venclova and many other Lithuanian literary figures would say about such an evaluation of the Lithuanian literary language. By today’s standards, Sinclair’s statement could certainly be criticized for not conforming to the requirements of multiculturalism and for an apparent condescension towards those whose native language is not English. 

Subačius writes that in the first edition of his novel Sinclair used 69 different Lithuanian words and used them 194 times. He gives parallel columns showing the occurrence of the Lithuanian words, the first edition on the left and the 1906 edition on the right (pp. 20-21). 

Of course, as Subačius notes (pp. 22-23), we cannot expect Sinclair to have been sensitive to the various Lithuanian dialects. The words jukai (jokes), Muma (mother), Rudkos for the proper name Rudkus, Susimilkis ([God] have mercy), szlouti (to sweep) have Lowland dialect features. As is well known, Highland and Standard Lithuanian [uo] corresponds to Northern Lowland [ọu] and Southern Lowland [ū]. So Sinclair’s szlouti (to sweep) would correspond to contemporary Standard Lithuanian šluoti and Sinclair’s jukai (jokes) to contemporary Standard Lithuanian juokai. Standard Lithuanian mama (mother, mama) is rendered as muma in the Lowland pronunciation, where the open [ọ] occurs between nasals. This open [ọ] is also represented in the spelling Rudkos for standard Rudkus. The form Su-si-milk-is contains both the infixed -si- reflexive particle as well as the final -is. One further East and South Highland form is graicziau (faster) (for Standard Lithuanian greičiau). 

In the 1906 edition, the form Su-si-milk-is has been replaced by the more formal Su-si-milk-ie with the imperative ending –kie; the dialect verb szlouti (to sweep) has been replaced by the Standard Lithuanian noun szluota (broom); and the dialect form of the name Rudkos has been replaced by the Standard Lithuanian Rudkus. Other dialect forms, such as muma and grai-cziau, remain in the 1906 edition. 

One of the errors of the first edition was the incorrect use of the dative case Vilimui, corrected to the nominative singular Vilimas in the 1906 edition. Another error in the first edition was the use of Diewes as a vocative case. This was corrected in the 1906 edition to Dieve. The form Diewes could be interpreted as an incorrect spelling for the nominative singular Dievas. One could imagine that Sinclair asked how to say ”God” in Lithuanian and that his informant might have answered – Dievas. There is, of course, in Lithuanian the so-called nominative of address, for example: Kas tiesa, ponas (nominative singular masculine), tai tiesa... (What is true, sir, is true...) : but the vocative expression Dieve seems so common in Lithuanian it is hard to imagine anyone using the nominative Dievas in its place. 

Since Sinclair apparently knew some Greek and Latin, he may have known about the vocative case in these languages. But yet, in the Vulgate, the vocative of Deus (God) is like the nominative, see, for example, Matthew 27: 46 as a translation of the Aramaic Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani where we encounter Deus mi, Deus mi, cur deseruisti me (My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me) (King James version). In late Greek, however, the vocative of thé-os (God) might be the-é, apparently reflecting the same Indo-European vocative ending *-e, which is also encountered in Lithuanian Diev-e . Thus Θεέ μον, Θεέ μον, ἱνατί με έγκατέλιπες, Theé mou, Theé mou, hinatí me egkatélipes (Matthew 27: 46). For this, Father Rubšys (1998: 1602) gives Mano Dieve, mano Dieve, kodėl mane apleidai?! My suspicion is, however, that Sinclair was not sensitive to the difference between nominative and vocative and merely copied down what his Lithuanian informant told him. 

A list of Lithuanian names occurring in the first edition, with their correspondences in the 1906 edition, is given on p. 22. Apparently, when Sinclair wrote the first edition his grasp of the Lithuanian naming system was either rather hazy, or he didn’t think it worthwhile bothering with for an English-speaking audience. By modern feminist standards, the grammar of the Lithuanian language might be called ”male chauvinist,” because a woman’s last name has a feminine ending different from the masculine ending and reveals whether she is single or married. Thus, names such as Ona Lukoszis and Alena Jasaitis (with a feminine first name and a masculine last name) should be forbidden by Lithuanian rules of grammar. Possibly somebody pointed this out to Sinclair, because in the 1906 edition they have been corrected to Ona Lukoszaite and Alena Jasaityte, revealing that both are unmarried women. Mrs. Juknos (which would seem to have either a feminine genitive singular or nominative plural ending; but perhaps reflecting Sinclair’s misunderstanding of the masculine form, *Juknas, has been corrected in the 1906 edition to Mrs. Jukniene, with an ending revealing that she is a married woman and rendering the word Mrs. unnecessary. After all this, however, I should remark that I have seen on Lithuanian television a female news reporter who is billed with the last name Simutis. A Lithuanian friend of my generation (beyond 75) finds the name to be an anomaly for a woman. Will political correctness render the Lithuanian naming system obsolete? Dambriūnas (1962: 49) thought that the use of the masculine form of the last name by a woman was the first step, perhaps even an unconscious step, towards the loss of Lithuanian nationality (nulietuvėjimas). 

For contemporary Standard Lithuanian <č> and <š>, Sinclair used the older and less prestigious digraphs <cz> and <sz> (p. 24). He used the letter <j> correctly and, for the most part, correctly distinguished the orthographic use of <y> denoting a long <i> and <i> denoting its short counterpart. In my view, the correct use of the above spelling conventions shows that Sinclair had help from his Lithuanian friends. He could not have used any of these letters correctly on the basis of any of the languages that he knew (except perhaps the <j> in German). The correct spelling (by the earlier standard) of such words as gukcziojimas (sob) and nusiszypsojimas (smile) would certainly have been impossible for an American untrained in phonetic transcription (and quite probably even for an American trained in those days in phonetic transcription). 

In fact, although I believe that Subačius is correct in attributing the spelling of the words jukai, muma, Rudkos, graicziau to the Lowland pronunciation, a case could be made that Sinclair just didn’t transcribe these words correctly. One could assume that in jukai Sinclair merely missed the second element of the diphthong /uo/; and that in the first syllable of muma he was influenced by the labialization of the initial /m/ to write muma for /mama/. For Rudkos, I might suggest faulty hearing of a rather open /u/ in word final position. Since standard Lithuanian /e/ is quite open, Sinclair might have heard graicziau rather than greicziau

Even for trained linguists, phonetic transcription is very subjective. See Sever Pop (1950: 261) and Port and Leary (2005: 938). On the basis of the evidence, I doubt that Sinclair transcribed anything from direct speech, but rather wrote down what his informants told him. 

I think this is supported by Sinclair’s own statement, as quoted by Subačius (p. 36): ”My reason for wishing to know foreign languages has been to get at ’the best that has been thought and felt in the world’ as it has been recorded in books. The ability to speak foreign languages was for me a matter of secondary importance.” (Sinclair 1902). In my view, not having the ”parrot” ability does not hinder one’s creative genius; as one can see, for example, from Sabaliauskas’s (2006: 10) evaluation of the recently deceased great Russian scholar, V. N. Toporov, who was apparently embarrassed to speak any language other than his native Russian. 

Subačius (pp. 38-57) discusses Sinclair’s possible prototypes for the choice of Lithuanian surnames. The Jungle’s protagonist in the first edition is Jurgis Rudkos and in the 1906 edition Jurgis Rudkus. According to Subačius (p. 38), neither of these names is found in the Chicago city directories of 1901 through 1905, but the 1900 federal census lists a Joseph Rudkos and a Kasmierz Rutkus. It seems possible that Sinclair could have met this Joseph Rudkos, who worked in the Chicago steel works. Another possible source for the name is the early twentieth-century Lithuanian socialist Karolis Rutkus from Cleveland, Ohio, widely known among the Lithuanian immigrants. 

The name Grajczunas (FE) > Graiczunas (1906 edition) is certainly derived from that of A. L. Graičiūnas, a well-known druggist and then physician in the Lithuanian community (p. 45). Similarly, the name Kuszlejka (FE) > Kuszleika (1906 edition) certainly comes from that of a Chicago saloonkeeper of that time, Joseph Kuszlejko (pp. 43-45). 

The name Biarczynskas (FE) > Berczynskas (1906 edition) probably comes from the name Antanas Bierzinskis, the owner of several Chicago saloons, whose name is also listed in the Chicago directories in its Polish form, Anton Bierzynski (p. 46). His advertisement with an accompanying poem is reprinted (p. 49), along with a clever English translation of the poem by Elizabeth Novickas. It seems to me that her English translation captures very well the level, tone and spirit of the original Lithuanian verse. 

A problem in Lithuanian phonology is the status of the phonemes /e/ vs. /a/, which would seem to contrast only in word-initial position, thus avìs (sheep) vs. ežys (hedgehog.) Otherwise, in principle /e/ would occur only after a palatalized consonant and /a/ only after an unpalatalized consonant (Girdenis 1981: 37, 108, 128). Thus, the orthographic difference between Biarczynskas and Berczynskas would be phonologically meaningless, the <i> in the name Biarczynskas denoting only the palatalization of the preceding consonant, which as a palatalized consonant would automatically front the following /a/ to /e/. Similarly, in the name Szadwilas (FE) vs. Szedvilas (1906 edition) the <a> should show that the preceding consonantal phoneme was unpalatalized /š/, whereas the should show that the preceding consonantal phoneme was palatalized /š’/. An American probably wouldn’t hear the difference between unpalatalized /š/ and palatalized /š’/. On the other hand, a Lithuanian would undoubtedly hear the difference between the two consonants; but, since the phoneme /e/ is very open, he might write either the letter <e> or the letter <a>. The letter <w> of older Lithuanian writings was used to denote the phoneme /v/, which is denoted by the letter <v> in the contemporary orthography. 

Finally, all of the surnames are presented in a table with their possible prototypes on p. 55. Subačius (p. 37) quotes De- Gruson (1988: XXIV), who wrote that Sinclair’s English corporate names are often ”thinly disguised” versions of existing surnames, sharing some of the same letters with the prototype. Thus, for Armour, we encounter Anderson; for Swift, we have Smith; and for Morris, Morton. For the most part, Subačius does not discuss the origins of first names, since they may come from anybody. One exception, however, is the first name Jurgis, which Subačius compares to the title of the book, The Jungle. This is a particularly intriguing suggestion. 

Chapter 3, “Specific Locations,” is devoted to a thorough historical study of the region of Chicago where Sinclair’s novel is set. The first section locates the city dumps; the second, the area known as ”the back of the yards (i.e., stockyards)”, the third, the wedding feast saloon; and the fourth, the church of the wedding ceremony. 

The Lithuanian surnames used by Sinclair suggest candidates for real-life saloons, one of which may have been the host of the wedding that Sinclair attended prior to writing his novel. The two leading candidates are Kuszlejko’s and Bierzynski’s saloons, which were located at 4558 and 4560 South Paulina respectively (p. 67). Both advertised rooms for wedding feasts, and both were important in Lithuanian cultural life at the time (p. 70), but neither survives today (p. 73). The building that housed Bierzynski’s saloon burned down in 1948; and the building that housed Kuszlejko’s disappeared some time later. A comparison of the sizes of the two saloons with the reconstructed plan of the room of the wedding feast leads to the conclusion that the wedding feast probably took place at Kuszlejko’s (p. 75). Chapter 3 also contains a map of the area under discussion, many old photographs of this area, including a photograph of Kuszlejko’s saloon (along with the proprietor, Joseph Kuszlejko), plans of Kuszlejko’s and Bierzynski’s saloons and a plan of the saloon described in The Jungle

In 1904, there were five Lithuanian Roman Catholic churches in Chicago; but, for various reasons, all but St. George’s Parish can be eliminated as the possible site of the wedding of the couple whose feast Sinclair had attended (p. 79). On Nov. 20, 1904 (a Sunday), two weddings were registered in St. George’s Parish, the second of which, that of Ladislaus Kiszkunas and Carolina Kazlauckaite, was probably the one in question here. 

Chapter 4, the ”Conclusion,” sums up the findings of the book and contains some very interesting personal observations by Subačius himself. He finds that, whereas many Americans have read The Jungle, most Lithuanians have not, even though there were at least five Lithuanian editions of the novel (p. 87). When asked by a friend why this is the case, Subačius speculated: ” guess then was that the intellectuals of Soviet Lithuania did not trust those American books that the Soviets were eager to translate into Lithuanian... Intellectuals often turned their noses up at the very word socialism; they probably believed that socialist ideas were not the best thing that they could obtain from America, and that if the Soviets were offering the book in Lithuanian translation, its purpose could be deceitful – to present a distorted image of American life” (pp. 87-88). Subačius’s speculation seems completely plausible to me. During my own fairly frequent trips behind the Iron Curtain at the end of the last century, I found that Soviet anti-American propaganda was so heavy and clumsy that it had exactly the opposite effect from that intended. In spite of my insistence that Western society had its failures and negative aspects also, those Soviet intellectuals that I met (not only Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, but also Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Georgians, etc.) were hesitant to believe me. Many of them seemed to view the West as something near to paradise. 

In sum, this is a real contribution to the study of the origins of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, a book that is important both as a monument of American literature and an important influence on the course of American history in the early part of the last century. Subačius is to be congratulated for his achievement. 


Gimtoji kalba, No. 4(18), 1962. 

DeGruson, Gene (ed.). The Lost First Edition of Sinclair’s The Jungle. Memphis, Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1988. 

Eby, Claire Virginia. Upton Sinclair: The Jungle, Authoritative Text, Contexts and Backgrounds, Criticism. New York, London: W. W. Norton, 2003. 

Girdenis, Aleksas. Fonologija. Vilnius: Mokslas, 1981. 

Lithuanian Academy Grammar I (Lietuvių kalbos gramatika). Vol. I. Vilnius: Mintis, 1965. 

v>Pop, Sever. La dialectologie. Vol. 1. Dialectologie Romane. Publications universitaires de Louvain. Recueil de travaux d’histoire et de philologie, 3e série, Fascicule 38, 1950. 

Port, Robert F. and Adam P. Leary. “Against formal phonology.” Language 81, 927-964, 2005. 

Sabaliauskas, Algirdas. “Keletas smulkmenų Vladimiro Toporovo portretui.” Šiaurės Atėnai, May 8, No. 14:10-11, 2006. 

Senasis ir naujasis testamentas. Šventasis raštas. (Old and New Testament). Antanas Rubšys – Česlovas Kavaliauskas, trans. Vilnius: Lietuvos katalikų vyskupų konferencija, 1998. 

Sinclair, Upton. “On the teaching of languages.” The Independent. February 27, 1902, 493–497. 

William R. Schmalstieg