Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fraternities: Another Jungle

Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle did more than any other single work to arouse public opinion against the malevolent excesses of the American meat packing industry, and to initiate its reform. Now another literary heavyweight, the prolific author Joyce Carol Oates, has come forward with a short story (Landfill in the current New Yorker, source) that ought to arouse a similar passion about the jungle of college fraternities.

Oates' fictional story describes the death of Hector Campos Jr., a Latino student at Michigan State University, who got drunk and either fell or was pushed down a trash chute into the dumpster behind the Phi Epsilon fraternity. Authorities found his body three weeks later -- three weeks of agony for his parents -- in the county landfill. Oates writes in a documentary style, sequencing factual detail after detail until the resulting tapestry becomes emotionally overwhelming.

Newspaper reports of real deaths of real college students don't seem to have made much of a dent in the college fraternity drinking scene. Source. Maybe Oates' intensely felt and written fictional piece in the New Yorker will succeed where journalism has failed. Thank you, Ms. Oates, for the effort.

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