George Garga is working in Maynes' Lending Library in Chicago in 1912. Shlink and Skinny enter and want to borrow a book, any book. Garga gives them his opinion two books and Shlink, instead of accepting his opinion, tries to buy it from him for a significant amount of money. Garga refuses to sell them his opinion but Shlink cleverly ups the offer. When Garga again refuses, even after admitting that his family is living on rotten fish and that three of them sleep in one room, Shlink declares war on him.
Maynes enters the shop and Skinny immediately points out Garga' messy shirt. Maynes yells at his employee for looking dirty. Shlink then advises Garga to go to Tahiti, a place where Garga has always dreamed to going. When Garga sarcastically thanks him and tells him that he will have his sister say a prayer for Shlink, Shlink remarks that she has nothing better to do since she keeps turning down Manky's love for her. Garga is offended that Shlink knows all about his private life and asks Maynes to kick them out of the shop.
Finnay (The Worm) walks in and starts to beat up the books, claiming that everything in them is lies. Maynes is dismayed at the damage and orders Garga to call the police. Garga is starting to believe that all the men in the shop are out to get him. The Baboon (Collie Couch) enters accompanied by Jane Larry, Garga's girlfriend. Garga sees her and realizes that she is drunk; he her to go home. The other men start destroying the books and Maynes informs Garga that if they do not stop then he is fired.
Jane sits down on The Baboon's lap and the pimp tells George that her body is worth a few dollars. The other men laugh at Garga, who offers to take her away and live with her. She tells him it is too late. Shlink doubles his offer to Garga one more time, causing even Maynes to tell Garga to accept it. Garga instead refuses, and is immediately fired. He bursts into a rage and yells at them that his ability to reject their financial offer is freedom. He strips his clothes and runs away. Shlink laughingly pays Maynes for the destroyed books and the clothes.
A fundamental concept in Jungle of Cities is the desire to pierce the "thick" skin that people wear. This skin prevents people from being able to feel emotion for others. Brecht's belief is that only strong emotions, such as hatred and anger, are able to puncture through the skin and bring the individual to a state of intense emotional rapture. This is what Shlink is trying to accomplish in this first round of the duel. Garga has a thick skin for most of the scene, initially telling Jane to go out with The Baboon again. The Baboon says to him, "Hey, that's a bit thick." Garga's inability to feel emotion is cracked by the end of the scene. It results in a poetic outpouring of emotion that causes the other men to burst into applause. Skinny says, "So we finally got him to shed his skin: let's take it along."
Shlink cleverly attacks Garga on the one thing that Garga cannot yield: freedom of ideas. Rather than change his mind by selling his opinion, Garga is willing to resist the money and even start a fight to the death for his right to choose whom he gives his opinions to. Brecht associates him with the prairie man, identified as the Western cowboy, defending his freedom of choice. Thus the right to an opinion is worth far more than money to Garga.
The association of opinions with the prairie makes the reader realize the the city is a jungle that makes people conform. Skinny tells Garga: "So you have opinions. Well, that's because you don't know about life." Opinions are not acceptable in a society that demands conformity; Shlink takes advantage of this fact to see if Garga will fight him (and consequently society) or yield to the financial allures of capitalism.
An interesting moment occurs when Garga offers to sell Shlink other men's ideas. This is a world where money is able to buy everything, including opinions. In such a world there cannot be freedom because everything is has a pre-determined price. Brecht uses this moment to allude to his own sources for inspiration: "I'll sell you the opinions of Mr. V. Jensen and Mr. Arthur Rimbaud, but I won't sell you my own opinion." This hidden reference sets up the conflict of the play; it also begs the reader to conceive of Garga and Shlink as Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. Thus the fight will be a fight for ideological freedom and a fight for the release of emotional tension.
Several weeks later Garga goes to Shlink's office at the lumber yard. Shlink is pleased to see him, but Garga becomes furious when he sees his sister working there. He orders her to go home. Garga then informs Shlink that he accepts the challenge to a fight, and that he does not even care about the reasons. All he cares about is the fact that Shlink thinks he is the tougher man. In order to make the fight more equal, Shlink gives Garga his house and his lumber yard, promising to become Garga's servant.
Garga immediately orders Skinny to sell a pile of logs twice, making an illegal deal so that someone will eventually have to go to jail. Skinny, The Worm, and The Baboon all object to this, but Shlink orders them to do it. Garga then takes the lumber yard's transaction ledger and makes Skinny pour ink all over it. He orders them to stop the sawmill and then makes Shlink fire Skinny. Marie tells him that he is acting irrationally and that he is not treating the men very well. Garga explains that he does not understand what Shlink is doing, but that he will do his best to destroy Shlink. Both Shlink and Garga exit.
Skinny complains about being fired so easily. He then tells Marie that he has fallen in love with her. Skinny offers The Worm and The Baboon money to buy Marie. She is incensed and calls out for Shlink to help her. He tells her that she would be better off with Skinny since he at least loves her. Garga laughingly enters the room and comments that now they are auctioning off flesh.
Hearing a Salvation Army band in the street, Garga calls to them and asks them to enter. He offers to give them the house as a donation if the Salvation Army Officer allows him to spit in his face. The Officer at first says he is not permitted to do that, but then recants and allows it. Garga orders Shlink to spit on the man, which he does.
Having had his joke ruined, Garga takes some of the money and plans to go to Tahiti. Marie tells him that he is selling out and fighting her in the process. She says he can go and that she will manage on her own. Garga remarks that she will care for the family by becoming a whore.
This second round of the duel is focused on both making the fight more equal and on the eventual destruction of Shlink. Shlink realizes that money gets in the way of emotions by causing people to suppress them. His reason for giving everything to Garga is to force them both to try to destroy each other without any inhibitions or unequal means. Garga immediately accepts this challenge, and destroys first the business through an illegal transaction and gives away the house by making Shlink spit on the Salvation Army Officer.
Part of the focus of the play is to make the reader aware that money destroys emotions by forcing people to suppress them. The Salvation Army Officer sells his virtue and honor for the deed to the house. Brecht makes him shake his fist after being spat on and cry "Forgive me", but he does not try to revenge the act. This contrast him with Garga who would never accept this kind of treatment merely for money.
One of the hidden themes of this play is to serve as a religious parable. Shlink is a lumberman, analogous to Jesus the carpenter. In this scene he is betrayed by Garga, who functions as a Judas throughout Jungle of Cities. The parallels continue until the very end of the play, where Garga will triumph over Shlink.
Back at Garga's house his mother, father, and Manky are discussing what they have heard concerning his disappearance. When Garga arrives home his father is pleased because it means that they will have money to eat out again. His mother asks him if he is in trouble, and he explains that he is caught in the fight with another man who has given up everything in order to continue the fight. He explains that in order to escape the fight he would have to be free, but since he has already been "sold" into a position in society, he is not.
Garga's mother wonders what has happened to his sister, but he will not tell her. Garga informs her he is moving South and leaves. The Worm enters and tells the father that Marie is living in a Chinese hotel. He insinuates that she is a prostitute and is so active that the hotel is getting a bad reputation. He asks the father to come and take her away but fails to reveal the exact location of the hotel.
Shlink arrives and The Worm exits the house. Shlink asks the father if he could board there as a guest. He even offers to become the new family breadwinner since Garga has now moved away. John considers the proposal and accepts it. Mae (Mrs. Garga) enters and also agrees to have Shlink stay with them.
Garga provides one of the reasons for why Shlink is willing to give up his lumberyard and house when he states, "He'll find he's already been consecrated, paid for, stamped and sold at a good price, so he isn't even free to go and drown himself." This description of mankind implies that man gets trapped in the fiscal world of capitalism and is unable to free himself from the daily pricing of everything, including even opinions. Shlink must give away everything in order to achieve his goal of being able to experience the world without the constraints that money places on him.
The duel can be interpreted as an attempt by Shlink to get to where Garga already is; Shlink envies Garga's ability to refuse to sell his opinion in a world were everything is bought or sold, including women, sex, family, and love. The other side of this duel is Shlink's attempt to remove Garga's freedom by saddling him with money and property. Garga is seen rejecting this throughout, even to the point of rejecting his family in order to maintain his freedom.Shlink moves in with Garga's family in an attempt to capture the freedom that Garga has; it also serves to complete the replacement of Shlink with Garga and Garga with Shlink.
Brecht frequently refers to both sex and food as base necessities that drive humans into contact with each other. Notice what The Worm says about what Marie is doing at the hotel: "Nothing, or, just eating." We know that she is really a prostitute and that she is lying in bed all day. This conflation of food and sex serves to separate the characters who need them from those who do not. When moving into the Garga home, Shlink comments that he could survive on flintstones if necessary. He has already dispensed with food as a means of survival.
The difference between John Garga and George Garga is highlighted here when John accepts Shlink into his house because he needs the money. He says, "You can't fill your belly with reasonings, you know." Again, food is brought up as a negative aspect of human existence that leads a person to allow even the sanctity of his home to be violated. Both food and prostitution are similar in that people sacrifice their freedom for them.