Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Upton Sinclair, fully Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr.

American Author, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Candidate for Governor of California and Polemicist

"I am sustained by a sense of the worthwhileness of what I am doing; a trust in the good faith of the process which created and sustains me. that process I call God."

"My soul is myself; the well-spring or point of consciousness, or center of inner activity… the most real thing in the universe to me; the start of all other knowing, the test by which I judge all other data."

"A large section of the idling classes of England get their incomes by believing that Jesus was born of a virgin and that Jonah swallowed a whale; and with the progress of science they were naturally finding this more and more difficult. A school of ingenious Bible-twisters arose, to invent symbolical and literary meanings for fairy tales, in order that people who no longer believed could continue with good conscience to collect the salaries of belief."

"A wonderful privilege it was to be thus admitted into the soul of a man of genius, to be allowed to share the ecstasies and the agonies of his inmost life."

"A new burst of rage swept over him — What did it matter whether it was true or not — whether anything was true or not? What did it matter if anybody had done all the hideous and loathsome things that everybody else said they had done? It was what everybody was saying! It was what everybody believed — what everybody was interested in! It was the measure of a whole society — their ideals and their standards! It was the way they spent their time, repeating nasty scandals about each other; living in an atmosphere of suspicion and cynicism, with endless whispering and leering, and gossip of low intrigue."

"All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda."

"All truly great art is optimistic. The individual artist is happy in his creative work. The fact that practically all great art is tragic does not in any way change the above thesis."

"An event of colossal and overwhelming significance may happen all at once, but the words which describe it have to come one by one in a long chain."

"All day long this man would toil thus, his whole being centered upon the purpose of making twenty-three instead of twenty-two and a half cents an hour; and then his product would be reckoned up by the census taker, and jubilant captains of industry would boast of it in their banquet halls, telling how our workers are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country. If we are the greatest nation the sun ever shone upon, it would seem to be mainly because we have been able to goad our wage-earners to this pitch of frenzy."

"At last Paul went on. I know how it is, son. You won't do it, you haven't the nerve for it-you're soft. He waited, while those cruel words sank in. Yes, that's the word, soft. You've always had everything you wanted- you've had it handed to you on a silver tray, and it's made you a weakling. You have a good heart, you know what's right, but you couldn't bear to act, you'd be too afraid of hurting somebody."

"Consider Christmas. Could Satan in his most malignant mood have devised a worse combination of graft plus bunkum than the system whereby several hundred million people get a billion or so gifts for which they have no use, and some thousands of shop clerks die of exhaustion while selling them, and every other child in the Western world is made ill from overeating all in the name of the lowly Jesus."

"American capitalism is predatory, and American politics are corrupt: The same thing is true in England and the same in France; but in all these three countries the dominating fact is that whatever the people get ready to change the government, they can change it. The same thing is not true of Germany, and until it was made true in Germany, there could be no free political democracy anywhere else in the world — to say nothing of any free social democracy. My revolutionary friends who will not recognize this fact seem to me like a bunch of musicians sitting down to play a symphony concert in a forest where there is a man-eating tiger loose. For my part, much as I enjoy symphony concerts, I want to put my fiddle away in its case and get a rifle and go out and settle with the tiger."

"Fascism is capitalism plus murder."

"Chophouse. It was his descriptions of meat, though, that most concerned Americans. Even President Theodore Roosevelt seemed to be more shocked by the details of how cattle and hogs were being sliced into beef and pork--and by how much condemned meat was ending up on American dinner tables--than by the workers' plight. Within a matter of months, Sinclair's book became an international bestseller and sparked legislation regulating the meat industry for the first time. I aimed for the public's heart ... and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

"For the game had never been fair, the dice were loaded. They were swindlers and thieves of pennies and dimes, and they had been trapped and put out of the way by the swindlers and thieves of millions of dollars."

"He was burning with a sense of outrage. He had been tricked and made a fool of; he had been used and flung aside. And now there was nothing he could do — he was utterly helpless. What affected him most was his sense of the overwhelming magnitude of the powers which had made him their puppet; of the utter futility of the efforts that he or any other man could make against them. They were like elemental, cosmic forces; they held all the world in their grip, and a common man was as much at their mercy as a bit of chaff in a tempest."

"Dad, as a good American, believed his newspapers."

"Human beings suffer agonies, and their sad fates become legends; poets write verses about them and playwrights compose dramas, and the remembrance of past grief becomes a source of present pleasure - such is the strange alchemy of the spirit."

"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

"I am a person who has never used violence himself. My present opinion is that people who have obtained the ballot should use it and solve their problems in that way. In the case of peoples who have not obtained the ballot, and who cannot control their states, I again find in my own mind a division of opinion, which is not logical, but purely a rough practical judgment. My own forefathers got their political freedom by violence; that is to say, they overthrew the British crown and made themselves a free Republic. Also by violence they put an end to the enslavement of the black race on this continent."

"I have lived in Germany and know its language and literature, and the spirit and ideals of its rulers. Having given many years to a study of American capitalism, I am not blind to the defects of my own country; but, in spite of these defects, I assert that the difference between the ruling class of Germany and that of America is the difference between the seventeenth century and the twentieth. No question can be settled by force, my pacifist friends all say. And this in a country in which a civil war was fought and the question of slavery and secession settled! I can speak with especial certainty of this question, because all my ancestors were Southerners and fought on the rebel side; I myself am living testimony to the fact that force can and does settle questions — when it is used with intelligence. In the same way I say if Germany be allowed to win this war — then we in America shall have to drop every other activity and devote the next twenty or thirty years to preparing for a last-ditch defense of the democratic principle."

"I discover that hardly a week passes that someone does not start a new cult, or revive an old one; if I had a hundred life-times I could not know all the creeds and ceremonies, the services and rituals, the litanies and liturgies, the hymns, anthems and offertories of Bootstrap-lifting."

"I know you are brave and unselfish people, making sacrifices for a great principle but I cannot join you. I believe in the present effort which the allies are making to suppress German militarism. I would approve of America going to their assistance. I would enlist to that end, if ever there be a situation where I believe I could do more with my hands than I could with my pen."

"I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policeman with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country."

"I just put on what the lady says. I've been married three times, so I've had lots of supervision."

"I used to say to our audiences: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

"I wrote with tears and anguish, pouring into the pages all that pain which life had meant to me. Externally the story had to do with a family of stockyard workers, but internally it was the story of my own family. Did I wish to know how the poor suffered in winter time in Chicago? I only had to recall the previous winter in the cabin, when we had only cotton blankets, and had rags on top of us. It was the same with hunger, with illness, with fear. Our little boy was down with pneumonia that winter, and nearly died, and the grief of that went into the book."

"I, the driver of this car, that used to be Jim Ross, the teamster, and J.A. Ross and Co., general merchandise at Queen Centre, California, am now J. Arnold Ross, oil operator, and my breakfast is about digested, and I am a little too warm in my big new overcoat because the sun is coming out, and I have a new well flowing four thousand barrels at Los Lobos river, and sixteen on the pump at Antelope, and I'm on my way to sign a lease at Beach City, and we'll make up our schedule in the next couple of hours, and 'Bunny' is sitting beside me, and he is well and strong, and is going to own everything I am making, and follow in my footsteps, except that he will never make the ugly blunders or have painful memories that I have, but will be wise and perfect and do everything I say."

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

"If we are the greatest nation the sun ever shone upon, it would seem to be mainly because we have been able to goad our wage-earners to this pitch of frenzy."

"In the course of my twenty years career as an assailant of special privilege, I have attacked pretty nearly every important interest in America. The statements I have made, if false, would have been enough to deprive me of a thousand times all the property I ever owned, and to have sent me to prison for a thousand times a normal man's life. I have been called a liar on many occasions, needless to say; but never once in all these twenty years has one of my enemies ventured to bring me into a court of law, and to submit the issue between us to a jury of American citizens."

"I'm going to stop squandering money for things I don't want. I'm going to stop accepting invitations, and meeting people I don't like and don't want to know. I've tried your game — I've tried it hard, and I don't like it; and I'm going to get out before it's too late. I'm going to find some decent and simple place to live in; and I'm going down town to find out if there isn't some way in New York for a man to earn an honest living!"

"In the most deeply significant of the legends concerning Jesus, we are told how the devil took him up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and the devil said unto him: All this power will I give unto thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine. Jesus, as we know, answered and said Get thee behind me, Satan! And he really meant it; he would have nothing to do with worldly glory, with temporal power; he chose the career of a revolutionary agitator, and died the death of a disturber of the peace. And for two or three centuries his church followed in his footsteps, cherishing his proletarian gospel. The early Christians had all things in common, except women; they lived as social outcasts, hiding in deserted catacombs, and being thrown to lions and boiled in oil. But the devil is a subtle worm; he does not give up at one defeat, for he knows human nature, and the strength of the forces which battle for him. He failed to get Jesus, but he came again, to get Jesus' church. He came when, through the power of the new revolutionary idea, the Church had won a position of tremendous power in the decaying Roman Empire; and the subtle worm assumed the guise or no less a person than the Emperor himself, suggesting that he should become a convert to the new faith, so that the Church and he might work together for the greater glory of God. The bishops and fathers of the Church, ambitious for their organization, fell for this scheme, and Satan went off laughing to himself. He had got everything he had asked from Jesus three hundred years before; he had got the world's greatest religion."

"In the twilight, it was a vision of power."

"It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests - and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without pretense at apology, without the homage of a tear."

"It was cold and clammy in the stone cell; they called it the cooler, and used it to reduce the temperature of the violent and intractable. It was a trouble-saving device; they just left the man there and forgot him, and his own tormented mind did the rest."

"Into this wild-beast tangle these men had been born without their consent, they had taken part in it because they could not help it; that they were in jail was no disgrace to them, for the game had never been fair, the dice were loaded. They were swindlers and thieves of pennies and dimes, and they had been trapped and put out of the way by the swindlers and thieves of millions of dollars."

"It was the incarnation of blind and insensate Greed. It was a monster devouring with a thousand mouths, trampling with a thousand hoofs it was the Great Butcher--it was the spirit of Capitalism made flesh."

"Let us redeem our great words from base uses. Let that no longer call itself Love, which knows that it is not free!"

"Man is an evasive beast, given to cultivating strange notions about himself. He is humiliated by his simian ancestry, and tries to deny his animal nature, to persuade himself that he is not limited by its weaknesses nor concerned in its fate. And this impulse may be harmless, when it is genuine. But what are we to say when we see the formulas of heroic self-deception made use of by unheroic self-indulgence? What are we to say when we see asceticism preached to the poor by fat and comfortable retainers of the rich? What are we to say when we see idealism become hypocrisy, and the moral and spiritual heritage of mankind twisted to the knavish purposes of class-cruelty and greed? What I say is — Bootstrap-lifting!"

"Journalism is one of the devices whereby industrial autocracy keeps its control over political democracy; it is the day-by-day, between-elections propaganda, whereby the minds of the people are kept in a state of acquiescence, so that when the crisis of an election comes, they go to the polls and cast their ballots for either one of the two candidates of their exploiters."

"So the laws of good driving forbade you to go off the magic ribbon except in extreme emergencies. You were ethically entitled to several inches of margin at the right-hand edge; and the man approaching you was entitled to an equal number of inches; which left a remainder of inches between the two projectiles as they shot by. It sounds risky as one tells it, but the heavens are run on the basis of similar calculations, and while collisions do happen, they leave time enough in between for universes to be formed, and successful careers conducted by men of affairs."

"Now and then it occurs to one to reflect upon what slender threads of accident depend the most important circumstances of his life; to look back and shudder, realizing how close to the edge of nothingness his being has come."

"Surely it is moderate to say that the dish-washing for a family of five takes half an hour a day; with ten hours as a day’s work, it takes, therefore, half a million able bodied persons --- mostly women --- to do the dish-washing of the country. And note that this is most filthy and deadening and brutalizing work: that it is a cause of anemia, nervousness, ugliness, and ill-temper: of prostitution, suicide, and insanity; of drunken husbands and degenerate children --- for all of which things the community has naturally to pay. The Jungle"

"The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to End Poverty in California I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them."

"One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe.... Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart's desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life."

"Over the vast plain I wander, observing a thousand strange and incredible and terrifying manifestations of the Bootstrap-lifting impulse."

"The first thing brought forth by the study of any religion, ancient or modern, is that it is based upon Fear, born of it, fed by it — and that it cultivates the source from which its nourishment is derived."

"The methods by which the "Empire of Business" maintains its control over journalism are four: First, ownership of the papers; second, ownership of the owners; third, advertising subsidies; and fourth, direct bribery. By these methods there exists in America a control of news and of current comment more absolute than any monopoly in any other industry."

"The priests of all these cults, the singers, shouters, prayers and exhorters of Bootstrap-lifting have as their distinguishing characteristic that they do very little lifting at their own bootstraps, and less at any other man's. Now and then you may see one bend and give a delicate tug, of a purely symbolical character: as when the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Bootstrap-lifters comes once a year to wash the feet of the poor; or when the Sunday-school Superintendent of the Baptist Bootstrap-lifters shakes the hand of one of his Colorado mine-slaves. But for the most part the priests and preachers of Bootstrap-lifting walk haughtily erect, many of them being so swollen with prosperity that they could not reach their bootstraps if they wanted to. Their role in life is to exhort other men to more vigorous efforts at self-elevation, that the agents of the Wholesale Pickpockets' Association may ply their immemorial role with less chance of interference."