Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is a Socialist parable about the horrors of the meat industry at the turn of the last century. George R.R. Martin is one of the most famous fantasy authors living. Their books couldn’t be more different, and yet there’s remarkable similarities between them. Take, for example, Sinclair’s description of the killing floor and the Red Wedding. How then would the man known for dragons and swordplay do with Sinclair’s own bloody realism?
The manner in which they did this was something to be seen and never forgotten. First there came the “butcher,” to bleed the steers; this meant one swift stroke, so swift that you could not see it—only the flash of the knife; and before you could realize it, the man had darted on to the next line, and a stream of bright red was pouring out upon the floor. The butcher turned and addressed Jurgis.
“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a cow's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps you do not deserve to eat beef.”
“Morning breaks, and now my work begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall wear rubber boots and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the mop in the darkness. I am the scraper of the walls. I am the bucket that washes away the blood, the blade that separates the bones, the hammer that kills the steers, the shield that guards the realms of meat eaters. I pledge my life and honor to the meat packing house, for this day and all the days to come.”
“How can you still count yourself a health inspector, when you have forsaken every vow you ever swore?"
The inspector reached for coffee to refill his cup. “So many vows...they make you swear and swear. Defend the boss. Obey the boss. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey the FDA. Love your health. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the cattle. Slaughter as fast as possible. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.”
“Always keep your bosses confused. If they are never certain who you are or what you want, they cannot know what you are like to do next. Sometimes the best way to baffle them is to make moves that have no purpose, or even seem to work against you. Remember that, Jurgis, when you come to play the game.”
“What . . . what game?”
“The only game. The game of meat.”
“I thought I could count on you,” began Jurgis.
“Yes,” responded Scully, “so you could—I never yet went back on a friend. But is it fair to leave the job I got you and come to me for another? It wouldn't do for me to tell other men what I tell you, but you've been on the inside, and you ought to have sense enough to see for yourself. Do you see? What have you to gain by a strike?”
“I hadn't thought,” said Jurgis.
“Exactly,” said Scully, “but you'd better. Take my word for it, the strike will be over in a few days, and the men will be beaten; and meantime what you can get out of it will belong to you. Do you see?”
And Jurgis saw. He went back to the yards, and into the workroom. The men had left a long line of hogs in various stages of preparation, and the foreman was directing the feeble efforts of a score or two of clerks and stenographers and office boys to finish up the job and get them into the chilling rooms. Jurgis went straight up to him and announced,
“I will hurt you for this. I don't know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you'll know the debt is paid.”
When you play the game of meat, you win or you get minced. There is no middle ground.