The family is excited about moving into their new home, and they spend their remaining week in old Mrs. Jukniene’s flat talking of the furnishings they will put into it. Everyone is impressed with the way advertisements helped them “obtain full information as to pretty much everything a human creature could need.” Through such advertisements, one can find a cure for his ills or a product that will improve his life and “make smooth his paths through the world.” Marija finds an advertisement that catches her eye. Two birds advertise a company that will “feather your nest,” providing furniture for a four-room house. Although they have no money left, Teta Elzbieta signs papers that allow them to pay a few dollars every month to own the things now. The family moves into their new home and begins to stock it with belongings and food. It is a “never-ending delight, the fixing up of this house.” Jurgis and Ona decide they will marry when they save up a little money, and they marvel that this is to be their home.
Jurgis is happy with his job, though he never thought of the “flesh-and-blood side of it” until he works on the killing floor. The pace of the workers is very fast, and Jurgis notices how the bosses hire men that can speed up the pace of the other workers and install those men in crucial positions along the killing lines. This process is “speeding up the gang,” and anyone who cannot keep pace loses his job. Jurgis is dismayed to learn that unlike him, most men in the factory hate their jobs. An Irish union representative approaches him and tries to make him join the union for a portion of his pay. Jurgis is furious at this and believes that every man should work as he is able and receive just compensation for this work. Although Jurgis does not know what “laissez-faire” economics is, “he had been round the world enough to know that a man has to shift for himself in it, and that if he gets the worst of it, there is nobody to listen to him holler.”
However, Jurgis is also bothered by the fact that his father Dede Antanas cannot find work. One day, a man approaches Antanas and offers to give him a job if Antanas will give him part of his pay. Jurgis asks his friend Tamoszius Kuszleika about such arrangements, and Tamoszius tells him that some of the bosses make such deals in order to put more money into their pockets. When the bosses’ supervisors find out, they make the bosses give part of their pay in order to stay out of trouble, and the whole scam moves up the chain of command. Durham, Tamoszius explained, is a company run by a man seeking to make as much money as possible and he “did not care in the least how he did it.” Below him are managers and bosses that attempt to squeeze out as much work from the man below him as possible. At the bottom are workers like Jurgis and him, all living in terror of losing their jobs. The factory is a “seething cauldron of jealousies and hatreds.” Tamoszius assures Jurgis that no man can rise without being a “knave.”
Only two days after starting his job, Antanas comes home raging of the horrors of the place. Antanas’s job is to clean the traps. After beef is removed from a chemical vat for canning, they dump the remains on the floor where they are swept into a drain. Every week, Antanas must clean out the drain and put the disgusting waste into the same truck that hauls away the good meat for canning. Jurgis also finds that his job has similar horrors. Cattle that are about the give birth to calves are not fit for food, yet when a calving cow comes along, the men simply strip the calve out of the cow, and Jurgis pushes it down a drain where it is skinned and butchered for food. The cow is then skinned and butchered, and its meat is snuck past the government inspector and put in with the rest of the meat. One evening, Jurgis has the job of clearing out all the wounded or dead cattle from the train cars. Those cattle are then butchered, and the rotting meat is scattered amongst the good meat so that no one knows the difference. After this experience, Jurgis returns home “having begun to see at last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America.”
Jurgis and Ona are in love and desire to make plans for their wedding. Ona suggests to Teta Elzbieta that they do without the veselija, but this keeps her “lying awake all night.” They decide to wait in order to save up money for a proper wedding feast. They know it will take four to five months to raise such a sum.
The family meets an old Lithuanian woman who lives only a block away. The old woman brings nothing but bad news. This woman, Grandmother Majauszkiene, “had lived in the midst of misfortune so long that it had come to be her element.” The old woman tells them that the house they bought was, in fact, not new. It had been built by a company whose only goal is to sell the house, then raise the rent so high that the buyer cannot afford it. The buyer will be evicted, and the company will resell the house. The house that the family bought had previously been sold four times.
Grandmother Majauszkiene gives the family a brief history of Packingtown. The first immigrant group in Packingtown were the Germans, skilled butchers brought in by the packers from abroad to start the company. Cheap labor from Ireland soon arrived, and the Germans left. For six or eight years, Packingtown had been an Irish city, but then the Irish went on strike, and Durham imported cheaper labor to replace them. There were still some Irish left, running the unions and the police, but most had been displaced by the Bohemians who had been displaced by the Poles. Lithuanians were now the cheaper labor ,and even their jobs are being threatened by the Slovaks, for they are the poorest immigrants yet and will work for very little money. Packingtown is a place for “rats in a trap,” though as a socialist, Grandmother Majauszkiene believed that soon the people will rise up and murder the packers.
The old grandmother tells them that all the families who had lived in their house had suffered from some kind of bad luck. Someone always gets consumption, which makes the family worry about Dede Antanas and his persistent cough. All of the families have lost a child working in the yards since “in those days there had been no law about the age of children—the packers had worked all but the babies.” Grandmother Majauszkiene also tells them most of the families had not been able to keep up with the rent because of the interest payments. This shocks the family because they did not realize they are supposed to pay interest. Grandmother Majauszkiene shows them in their deed that they are responsible for seven percent—an extra seven dollars per month in rent that they had not expected to pay. The family is distraught and when Ona tells Jurgis of this development, he accepts it as fate and promises to work harder.
He agrees that both Ona and young Stanislovas should work. Ona bribes one of the foreladies at the packing plant and gets a job in the wrapping-room at Brown’s. Teta Elzbieta goes to a priest and gets a fraudulent document saying that Stanislovas is sixteen, older than he actually is, and he takes a position working with a machine that packs lard into cans. He earns three dollars a week for his work. Because Ona and Jurgis are young and still in love, they continue to plan for the wedding, glad that Stanislovas’s job covers the extra interest payment they had not known about.
The family toils all through the summer, and at the end of November, they rent out a hall and hold a wedding feast for Jurgis and Ona. Though they expect to make their money back through gifts, they find that they do not. Jurgis and Ona start their marriage over a hundred dollars in debt, a “bitter and cruel experience.” “They had opened their hearts, like flowers to the springtime, and the merciless winter had fallen upon them.” Ona must go back to work the next day, where she is treated with more cruelty because she had asked for a holiday after her wedding. Stanislovas, sick from overeating and drinking at the wedding, almost loses his job when the foreman has to kick him awake twice.
In December, Ona walks to work one day in the pouring rain and, because she works in a damp cold basement, she develops a cruel sickness for two weeks. The children also are not well in this new home. The family does not realize that the food and milk they buy is adulterated with water, preservatives, and colorings. Their medicine is not pure. Even the pest poison they buy for the house is nothing more than cheaply produced dirt that does nothing to get rid of the rodents and insects. “If they paid higher prices, they might get frills and fanciness, or be cheated; but genuine quality they could not obtain for love nor money.” Old Antanas has his own cruelty at his job. He develops a persistent and harsh cough. The chemicals that he stands in all day begin to eat away his boots and soon he develops sores and infections on his feet. One day, he falls apart, and men have to carry him home. Though he tries every day, he is no longer able to get out of bed and one night dies of hemorrhages caused by his coughing. Jurgis has no time for grief, however, because he gives “all his attention to the task of having a funeral without being bankrupted.”
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.”
Sinclair begins Chapter Five with a sarcastic assault on the advertising industry. Before the late nineteenth century, advertising had mostly consisted of selling space in newspapers and publications. Industries focused their advertisements on listing available items and services. With the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, advertising transitioned into an industry of influence; advertisers helped companies distinguish themselves and their products from other products. Sinclair attacks the advertising industry because of its duplicitous nature. Advertisements portray a product in the best light, yet in doing so they often lie to consumers about the quality of products. Jurgis and his family are too naïve to know about such lies and tricks, so they believe that such advertisements are meant to inform them, not persuade them.
This ignorance of the ways of capitalist society and its mechanisms of persuasion and trickery exemplify the innocence of Jurgis and his family. The family, in this way, is an archetype of innocence. An archetype is a character that represents common themes in culture. The loss of innocence archetype is most commonly associated with the story of Adam and Eve from the Hebrew Bible. These characters come into the world without understanding the way in which the culture around them has devolved into a “sinful” world that seeks to take advantage of them. The result is that such archetypes lose their naïve understandings of the world by going through extreme hardships. Often the loss of innocence involves death.
Tamoszius Kuszleika’s speech to Jurgis explaining the mechanism of worker exploitation in the meat packing factories is one of the novel’s important passages. Tamoszius is now his own character, yet he also retains some identification with Sinclair’s own personality in the first chapter. By explaining the mechanisms of capitalist exploitation in the factories, Tamoszius acts as a kind of prophet, foretelling Jurgis’s future in the industry as the story of everyman’s struggle to survive. This is similar to Sinclair’s own understanding of his role in writing the novel.
In his innocence, Jurgis denies the principles of laissez-faire economics to Tamoszius. Laissez-faire is an economic system that stipulates that all industry should be free from governmental regulation or control. In laissez-faire economics, a society will succeed through the mechanisms of pure capitalism in which individuals and individual corporations can grow at any cost and without interference. Jurgis does not understand that such a system usually only applies in a macroeconomic sense, to large economies and industries. In the microeconomic sense, laissez-faire economics seeks to take advantage of those persons or industries that are smaller and less influential. No person is smaller in the novel than Jurgis, though he does not initially understand this dynamic.
Grandmother Majauszkiene also serves a prophetic role in the novel. She gives the family the history of Packingtown and tells them of the particular history of their house. Everyone in that house undergoes intense hardships and each family has lost a child while living there. This is an instance of foreshadowing for, in a future chapter, Jurgis and Ona will lose two children. The loss of Jurgis’s first-born son will be a turning point in the novel.
In Chapter Seven, Sinclair uses Chicago’s brutal weather as a metaphor for the family’s growing difficulty and as a chance to foreshadow their demise. The weather is described in both realistic and metaphorical terms. As an example of realism, the cold rain of December causes severe illness in Ona. This begins her physical hardships, which directly cause her emotional and mental hardships. As a metaphor, Sinclair describes the way in which the weather kills the blooming trees and flowers of summer. The blooming foliage represents the dream of Jurgis and the family. The weather represents the general conditions that cause the family’s demise.