THE COAL WAR
Book 1, The Social Chasm
By: Upton Sinclair
Upton Sinclair wrote The Coal War in 1976 being published by Colorado Associated University Press. Book One; “The Social Chasm,” contained 69 pages while the entirety of The Coal War had 399 pages with two other Books. “The Social Chasm” was easy to follow and had an intriguing beginning.
The Coal War portrays many situations common to the people of the coal fields and those making an effort to improve its conditions. This sequential story takes place in Western City and Harrigan College, where Hal attends. Through Hal, the main character of Upton Sinclair’s story, Sinclair reveals his optimism as Hal’s determination to fight the coal and mine laborers. The idea of Hal working alone to see that the fields and mines improve shows a general optimistic view.
The Social Chasm tells of the hole that has been dug between the social classes. Hal, a wealthy man that has come from a prosperous and classy family, has heard of the cruelty and chaos that has been taking place at the coal camps in North Valley. Hearing stories of corruption, beatings, and even murders, Hal is convinced that the laborers’ treatment be acknowledged and somehow improved. All of Hal’s family and friends and even his fiance, Jessie Arthur, think his troubles and efforts are nothing more than stirring up controversy and disorder. Hal’s first plan to expose the North Valley mistreatment was to use a poor boy that had lived in the coal camps and knew of its harm and neglect, named Little Jerry. His father, Jerry, had been beaten by guards who had found out he was a union leader, and was left to die. He recovered eventually, but incidents such as these were common in the camps and Hal was going to make sure that Little Jerry told everyone who could stop such treatment, particularly those attending the Arthur party. The boy, however, just aroused sympathy and compassion from the higher classed people. He was just an unfortunate boy whom Santa Clause had not visited, and so the classy people filled his stomach with food, his hands with toys, and his eyes with glorious sites as he was given a tour of the Arthur estate. Now, having the actual crimes exposed, Hal wished to see the number of people who wanted to help him in his efforts to improve the camps and fields increase. Like in the beginning, Hal again was alone. With many attempts to persuade the powers to eliminate maltreatment, Hal stimulated many conflicts and initiated unwanted controversies. Throughout this story Hal wishes to become a hero and help the barbaric soiled men and their families from the wrath of the coal mines. He, however, fails to realize that he is from another class, one of education and wealth, a class whom cannot be trusted according to the lower proletarians. This 1900’s era has created a deep hole between these two classes, which disables their merging. As Hal continues in his adventures and missions of goodness, he jeopardizes his possible marriage into the honorable and prestigious family of the Arthurs, defames not only his family’s name but also the name of his fiance, and most of all, risks the health of his vulnerable father.
Sinclair clearly shows themes of good versus evil and portrays good as being successful. In the conclusion of his story, Hal comes to a vivid realization of truth, honor, and respect. Hal in his earlier days, thought that he must help those miners and laborers in need of help simply because they were less fortunate than he was and could not help themselves. With risks of his own, battles of his own, and emotional wounds of his own, Hal realizes that he is not helping the mistreated miners and laborers out of pity, but because it is his duty and honor to reciprocate the miners’ actions. Concluding his story, Sinclair writes, ” So Hal was going back to the coal country to pay for his privileges- his health, his freedom, his culture; he was going to pay the only price that would satisfy the god within him. That health and freedom and culture had been made from the labor of other people; they belonged to other people and there was only one honest use a man could make of them- devoting them to putting an end to the system of parasitism and leader the world’s wage slaves into the future of brotherhood and co-operation.” Hal’s goodness prevails over the evils of socialism, social classes, and society.