Winter comes to Chicago, and just as the storms of snow and hail kill the weaker trees and plants that fight for sunlight, so too does winter find and kill the weaker members of Packingtown. Each winter thousands die of pneumonia, grippe, tuberculosis, or consumption. Thousands of new workers still come trying to find jobs, and they are left freezing in the cold, waiting for a chance to do work. A misprint in the newspaper advertises jobs for 200 men to break ice. Three thousand show up for the jobs, but only twenty are taken. Police are called in to quell riots. The temperature falls to ten or twenty below zero, and it is a difficult task just to make the two mile walk from their house to work. Stanislovas develops a fear of the cold after another boy comes to work with his ears frozen. When someone else tries to warm them, they break off and fall from his head. There is no heat in the factories, so men on the killing beds often stick their freezing feet into the warm dead carcasses of the cattle to warm them. The steam rising from the killing floor means that men often cannot see five feet in front of them, which makes cutting and butchering the cattle very dangerous work.
Outside of the factories are saloons. These places offer the men a hot meal on their lunch breaks with the condition that they all must drink while they eat. These saloons are also union headquarters, so each man is treated well as long as they pay for their drinks. Drinking helps the day go by a bit faster, and it helps the men stay warm. Once work is over, however, they find they are cold again and must stop into the saloons again. If a wife and her children become worried about the man, they might venture out to find him and wander into the saloons as well, “and so a whole family would drift into drinking.” Jurgis takes a drink at lunch but becomes known as a surly fellow and goes straight home after his shift.
Home is full of its own miseries. Because it has poor insulation, the bitter cold comes through the cracks in the house. The small heater that the family can afford does not even heat one room of the house. The children all sleep in the same bed with all of their clothes on, piled under all of the bedding and clothing that the family owns. This still does not keep them warm, however. The cold has “icy, death-dealing fingers.” It is a “grisly thing, a specter born in the black caverns of terror; a power primeval, cosmic, shadowing the tortures of the lost souls flung out to chaos and destruction.” Each day, the family leaves for work “a little weaker, a little nearer to the time when it would be their turn to be shaken from the tree.”