The packinghouses hire more men during the summer months, but they pay each one less. This is so that if some of the men go on strike, the others will be trained to take their places. Thus, Jurgis has more work but brings home less pay. For the women, their wages decrease by a third, and there are rumors that they will be cut further. Marija is indignant over this slight in pay, and she organizes some of the other women to walk away from their jobs. They strike outside, waving a red flag (the symbol for “oppressed workers”), but the strike breaks in three days because there are so many people without jobs. Marija advances in her beef cutting skills, however, and soon is making enough money to open a bank account.
Marija puts all her money in a bank on Ashland Avenue. She lives “in continual dread lest something should happen to her bank,” and she often goes by each morning to make sure the bank is still in business. She is mostly worried about fire. She is worried that if the bank burns, her paper bills will burn with it, but Jurgis laughs at her and tries to explain that is not how banks work.
One morning on her way to work, Marija sees a large crowd gathered outside her bank. Panicking, she asks numerous people about the situation. They tell her there is a “run on the bank,” and everyone is attempting to withdraw their money at once because they are afraid that the bank is going to fail. Marija begins to claw and fight her way through the crowd, but realizes she does not have her bankbook and so she has to go back home to collect it. When she returns, the line to get into the bank extends for several blocks. Marija worries that there will be no more money left when she is finally able to get inside.
Marija waits in the line overnight. Jurgis brings her food and blankets. The next morning, even more people arrive, as well as the police. That afternoon, she finally makes it inside and collects her money, all in silver dollars. She immediately feels better and asks the man if she can redeposit the money, but he tells her savagely that the bank is not accepting deposits from anyone participating in the run. For the next week she goes everywhere with the big silver dollars sewn into her clothes so that no one can steal them. She does not lose her job because ten percent of the people of Packingtown did not come to work that day as they were also trying to get their money from the bank. Marija finds out that a fight that occurred at a saloon next door caused the run on the bank. People gathered around the bank to watch the fight. Other people assumed something was wrong at the bank, and panic spread and caused the run.
The summer turns into fall, which again brings winter. Jurgis knows that Ona cannot face another hard winter, which means she might have to give up her job. A blizzard comes to Chicago on the week before Christmas of that year and “for the first time in his life, Jurgis [knows] what it was to be really opposed.” He has a very difficult time even getting to work and when he arrives, he is staggering and almost blind from the snow. He does not lose his job that day, however, because the cattle are late getting to the killing floors.
One day, on the killing floor, a steer breaks loose of its chains. It is a dangerous situation because men scatter everywhere, all with big knives in their hands. Jurgis scrambles away from the steer and his foot becomes caught in the trap that collects the blood. He twists his ankle. He does not notice the injury at first, but it becomes worse throughout the day. The next day, his ankle is swollen and he wraps it in rags and goes to work anyway. It begins to hurt so badly that he passes out. A company doctor sees him and tells Jurgis that he must go home and go to bed. It could be months before the ankle properly heals.
Jurgis is devastated by his inability to work, and the family is secretly frightened. Jurgis often tries to get out of bed and go to work, but Teta Elzbieta cares for him and makes sure he does not leave the bed. It is hard on the family because they cannot even get proper nutrition. They eat large amounts of sausage made with chemicals and potato-flour, “the waste of potato after the starch and alcohol have been extracted.” Because Jurgis still has a clear mind and can think, he becomes progressively more upset over his situation. The only thing that helps him cope is holding little Antanas and seeing him grow up.
For three weeks after his injury, Jurgis never leaves his bed. He tries to go back to work, and finds that his boss has saved his job, but he is unable to work through the pain. A doctor examines him again and finds that he had twisted a tendon. The doctor works on his foot and then tells him that he must stay in bed for two months “and that if he went to work before that time he might lame himself for life.” A few days later, there is another awful snowstorm and Stanislovas gets a nasty frost on his fingers. He tries to warm his fingers, but they are frozen. He damages his knuckles for life and screams in pain in the house until Jurgis beats him to be quiet. From that day forward, Stanislovas has to be beaten before he will leave the house during the cold.
When the spring finally comes, the family loses one of its members. Jonas disappears and when the family asks his boss about him, his boss only says that he had collected his week’s pay and left. This could mean that Jonas was killed on the job, for the bosses were adept at covering up accidents, but the family is almost sure that Jonas had left town to find work in the countryside. He was a very unhappy man and for two years “had been yoked like a horse to a half-ton truck in Durham’s dark cellars” having to give much of his wages to the family so they could survive.
Marija’s savings begins to drain and the family borrows money from Tamoszius Kuszleika. Tamoszius gives them money because he is in love with Marija and is thus “doomed to be dragged down too.” They decide that two of the children have to leave school to go to work. They are each given a quarter and are told to go sell newspapers. The first day, a man tells him that he will give them papers, but he takes their money and does not. The children receive a beating when they get home, but are sent out the next day with more money. The next day, they sell papers but have their stock stolen by a man after they intrude on his paper-selling territory. They cover their expenses that day, however, and slowly begin to learn the tricks of the paper trade.
The children soon learn that they can sneak onto trolley cars to avoid paying the fare. They feel this is fair since “Whose fault was it that at the hours when workingmen were going to their work and back, the cars were so crowded that the conductors could not collect all the fares?” They soon learn to whom they should sell papers and what parts of town to stay away from, and they begin to bring home money.
Jurgis finally has permission by the doctor to return to work. He goes back to the killing floors but finds that the boss was forced to give his job away. Jurgis no longer has “the same fine confidence” and looks tired and beaten down while waiting in the lines for work. There is no work for him. Now he is a “second-hand...damaged article...and they did not want him.” Jurgis has become another of the “worn-out parts of the great merciless packing-machine....” Because Jurgis has a family to support, he faces dire poverty.
That spring, little Kristoforas dies. He had been a crippled child since birth, suffering from congenital dislocation of the hip. Teta Elzbieta is devastated as Kristoforas was her favorite child even though he had been “a nuisance, and a source of endless trouble in the family.” He is killed by a tubercular sausage. An hour after eating the sausage, he begins crying in pain and dies before a doctor can reach him. Jurgis declares that he must be buried by the city in a pauper’s grave, but Teta Elzbieta rebels and borrows money from Marija and the neighbors until she can afford to give her child a proper mass and burial.
Jurgis cannot find work and faces the prospect of working in the fertilizer plant. The fertilizer plant is the worst factory in all of Packingtown. Some men would rather starve than work there, but Jurgis is ashamed that his wife makes all of their income. One summer day, after an intense heat spell, the foreman of the fertilizer plant comes out and gives Jurgis a job. He goes to work shoveling fertilizer into carts. The dust in the place is so thick that Jurgis cannot see anything around him. He is given a sponge to cover his mouth so that he does not breathe in the fertilizer dust, but it cakes in his ears and eyes and nose. His skin is soon covered with it and he gets a headache. After a half-an-hour, Jurgis vomits “until it seems as if his inwards must be torn into shreds.” The boss tells him that a man will get used to the fertilizer shed if he puts his mind to it.
After his day’s work, Jurgis boards a train car to go home. All the passengers move away from him and soon they leave the car because of the stench. Jurgis smells so bad that, “it would have taken a week not merely of scrubbing, but of vigorous exercise, to get it out of him.” He smells so bad that, when at dinner that night, he causes the entire family to vomit. Jurgis sticks it out, however, and soon the physical pains become bearable and he becomes “a fertilizer-man for life.”
The children, while selling newspaper, begin to become accustomed to life on the Chicago streets. Soon, they learn all the swear words. They smoke the butts of cigars, and they know where all the brothels are. Sometimes they do not come home at night and prefer to sleep under a truck or in a doorway. It is decided then that the boys should return to school and Teta Elzbieta should find a job, leaving the housework to Kotrina, the thirteen-year-old girl. Teta Elzbieta gets a job in the sausage-making factory. All the women who work there are the color of sausage. They stand all day over a machine that mixes up the meat with spices and potato-flour. It is pushed into a casing and a group of women then twists the meat into links. They work so fast that it seems to all be a blur, but these women have a hard life, standing all day and twisting sausages. They stay there “hour after hour, day after day, year after year, twisting sausage-links and racing with death.” The sausage woman never has an instant to “glance at the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen who come to stare at her, as at some wild beast in a menagerie.”
In Chapter Eleven, Sinclair wages his criticism upon another institutional mechanism of capitalism, the banks. In describing “the run” on Marija’s bank, Sinclair is noting the way in which laissez-faire monetary policies create difficult situations in which even poor people are at risk in losing all of their money through no fault of their own. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American banks were subject to great volatility. There were several notable “runs” on banks, or panics in which all the bank’s depositors attempted to withdraw their money. If there is not enough money on hand (because much of it has been lent out to borrowers), some depositors are at risk of losing their money if the bank fails. This kind of panic was responsible for causing the Great Depression in the 1930s. By telling this story, and by noting how the panic is falsely caused by a bar fight, Sinclair is critiquing the way in which lax regulation works against common people even in institutions that should be safe havens for people’s money.
This part of the novel also follows Jurgis as he is first broken down by the weather, once again a metaphor for the larger social and economic systems of oppression, and then broken physically by an accident on the killing floor. These two events, which cause him to sprain his ankle and which keep him from work for over two months, are the first real hardships that Jurgis had ever gone through in his life. While it is not explained as to whether such hardships in America are actually worse than hardships in Eastern Europe, the physicality of the hardships describes a further descent into the hell of Packingtown. Thus, the demise of the body becomes a place of descent into suffering.
The destruction of the family is first described here as well. Jurgis and his family came to America with hopes of education and a better life for their children. This dream is shattered when the children must go to work. This is an example of the way in which forces of Social Darwinism deconstruct the meaning of family during this period of industrialization. The historical belief in the patriarchal family structure is destroyed as the children must enter the social “jungle” that bears the name of the novel. These children are subjected to the same hardships that their parents are subjected to and must map out their own methods to cope with such systems of oppression. These methods include not paying their fares on the trolley, a crime they justify. Those children, such as little Kristoforas, that cannot find ways to manipulate the system do not survive. In this “jungle” of society, only the fittest survive.
As an employee at the fertilizer plant, Jurgis reaches his lowest point as a character. By becoming covered in animal waste and feces, his body becomes the center of suffering in the novel. Jurgis and his family had been social outcasts, as are the other residents of Packingtown, but Jurgis’s job in the fertilizer plant now makes him a physical outcast in Packingtown. It can be argued that, in this way, Jurgis represents a Christ-figure in the novel. This figure undergoes intense persecution and physical harm, even to the point of death, in order to attain some kind of redemption or resurrection at the novel’s conclusion.
The scene in which Teta Elzbieta goes to work in the sausage factory is another example of how the meatpacking plants force a dehumanization of the novel’s characters. In this scene, Sinclair uses a literary technique in showing how the women who make sausage links are dehumanized and described as if they themselves are the meat. They take on the color of the sausage. Their lives have no more meaning or significance than do the sausage links they make and tie. In this way, Sinclair poses the nameless women as pieces of meat themselves; they are nothing but a product that the meat industry consumes and disregards.