[T]here were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit.
Jurgis and his family know all of the dirty secrets of the meat-packing industry. The most spoiled of meats becomes sausage. All manner of dishonesty exists in the industry’s willingness to sell diseased, rotten, and adulterated meat to American households. The working members of the family fall into a silent stupor due to the grinding poverty and misery of their lives. Ona and Jurgis grow apart, and Jurgis begins to drink heavily. He delivers himself from full-blown alcoholism through force of will, but the desire to drink always torments him.
Antanas suffers various childhood illnesses, and the measles attack him with fury. His strong constitution allows him to reach his first birthday, but he is as malnourished as the rest of the Packingtown poor. Ona, pregnant again, develops a bad cough and suffers increasingly frequent bouts of hysterical crying.
Winter arrives again, and with it comes the grueling rush season. Fifteen- and sixteen-hour workdays are frequent. Twice, Ona does not return home at night. She explains that the snow drifts kept her away so she stayed with a friend. When Jurgis discovers that she is lying, he wrangles a confession out of her. Sobbing hysterically, Ona confesses that Phil Connor, a boss at her factory, continually harassed her and pleaded with her to become his mistress. She tells Jurgis that Connor eventually raped her in the factory after everyone had gone home and threatened to arrange the firings of every wage earner in her household. Moreover, he threatened to prevent them from obtaining work in Packingtown ever again. With these threats, he forced her into accompanying him to Miss Henderson’s brothel in the evenings for the past two months.
Jurgis, livid, storms to Ona’s workplace. Upon seeing the coarse-looking and liquor-reeking Connor, he leaps at him and sinks his fingers into Connor’s throat. He channels all of his outrage about the rape into such a thrashing frenzy that he doesn’t even notice the pandemonium in the factory. A half-dozen men finally tear Jurgis, blood and skin dripping from his teeth, from the unconscious Connor and take him to the police station.
[C]ould they find no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six helpless children to starve and freeze?
Jurgis is arrested and taken to jail, where old men and boys, hardened criminals and petty criminals, innocent men and guilty men share the same squalid quarters. A date is designated for Jurgis’s trial and his bond is set at three hundred dollars. Afterward, he is taken to the county jail and made to strip; he is then walked, naked, down a hallway past the inmates, who leer and make comments. He is put into a small cell with a filthy, bug-infested mattress. Upon hearing a clanging of bells that evening, Jurgis realizes that it is Christmas Eve. He recalls the previous Christmas, when he and Ona walked along the avenue with the children and gazed at the marvelous food and toys in the store windows. He begins to sob when he thinks of his family spending Christmas without him and with Ona ill. He laments his family’s plight and feels that the Christmas chimes are mocking him.
While Jurgis awaits his trial, he becomes friends with his cellmate, Jack Duane. Jack claims to be an educated man from the east. He says that his father committed suicide after failing in business. He adds that a big company later cheated him out of a lucrative invention. His misfortunes led Jack to become a safe breaker. Before Jurgis’s trial, Jack gives Jurgis his mistress’s address and encourages him to seek his help should the need arise.
Jurgis’s trial is a farce. Kotrina and Teta Elzbieta attend it. Phil Connor testifies that he fired Ona fairly and that Jurgis attacked him for revenge. Jurgis tells his side of the story through an interpreter, but the judge is not sympathetic. He sentences Jurgis to thirty days in prison. Jurgis begs for clemency on the ground that his family will starve if he cannot work, but the judge remains firm.
In Bridewell Prison, Jurgis and the other prisoners spend the greater portion of their time breaking stone. He writes a postcard to his family to let them know where he is. Ten days later, Stanislovas visits to tell him that he, Ona, Marija, and Teta Elzbieta have all lost their jobs and that they are unable to pay rent or buy food. Marija is suffering blood poisoning because she cut her hand at work. Ona lies in bed, crying all day. Teta Elzbieta’s sausage factory shut down. Stanislovas lost his job after a snowstorm prevented him from going to work for three days. They cannot obtain other jobs because they are too sick and weak and because Connor is scheming to prevent them from finding work. Stanislovas asks if Jurgis can help them. Jurgis has no more than fourteen cents to give. Kotrina, Stanislovas, and the children earn money selling papers. Their only other income comes from begging.
Packingtown is full of predators and, as they have done throughout The Jungle, these hostile forces continue to attack the family bond that unites the immigrants. Phil Connor, empowered by his criminal connections, violates the sacred marriage bond between Jurgis and Ona, one of the few things of meaning that the two still possess. The idea of powerlessness pervades this grim section; no poor person has the power to fight for him- or herself. Marija tries to fight for her full wages, only to be fired; Ona cannot afford to reject Connor’s advances because he has the power to ruin her family. The wage laborer is systematically crippled and silenced by the power structure of capitalism.
In his attack on Connor, in Chapter 15, Jurgis exhibits an animalistic fury. Sinclair compares him to a “wounded bull” and a “tiger,” and the image of Jurgis hovering over Connor with his mouth full of Connor’s blood and skin evokes the primal, bestial quality of his rage. Ironically, the factories seek this sort of unrefined animal energy in their workers, which they can channel into efficient labor. Everywhere in Packingtown, there are wage laborers who suffer from some form of permanent disfigurement directly or indirectly related to their work. In a sense, the prevalence of these disfiguring injuries is a metaphor for the butchery of human bodies—which, like animals, are slaughtered in the service of profit.
With Jurgis’s sentencing, Sinclair argues that capitalism has perverted the American justice system. Judges are bought and sold by men with power and money, giving impunity to men like Connor. Furthermore, in Jurgis’s case, the judge does not care that his ruling means the difference between starvation and survival for an entire family.
Sinclair also charges capitalism with being anti-Christian. Immigrants (both Christian and Jewish) from eastern-European countries held fast to their religious beliefs and traditions upon coming to America as a source of strength and a sense of heritage. Here, however, Jurgis is forced to spend the Christmas holidays separated from his family, and his inability to work leads to them being evicted from their home at a time of year that is traditionally festive. Jurgis’s recollection of practically drooling over food and toys in store windows on the previous Christmas pits the harsh and cruel reality of capitalism at odds with the immigrants’ fantasies. Jurgis cannot afford the store window contents; his inability to be a consumer marks his failure as a producer, according to the capitalist system.
The family’s slew of misfortunes following Jurgis’s imprisonment clearly marks the beginning of the family’s inevitable descent into ruin. Sinclair foreshadows this fall throughout the early sections of the novel; his commitment to exemplifying the evils of capitalism necessitates that these exploited immigrants fail in their naïve pursuit of the American Dream. Throughout the novel, Sinclair relentlessly insists that hard work, family values, self-reliance, and self-motivated action—the underpinnings of the American Dream—do absolutely nothing to provide the means for social advancement. The wage laborers that populate The Jungle are moved inevitably toward ruin and abuse by forces beyond their control. Capitalism becomes a force as inevitable and careless as nature. It picks off unfortunate individuals as carelessly as cold weather, disease, and heat exhaustion.