They put him in a place where the snow could not beat in, where the cold could not eat through his bones; they brought him food and drink—why, in the name of heaven, if they must punish him, did they not put his family in jail and leave him outside—why could they find no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six helpless children to starve and freeze?
This quote from Chapter 16 explains Jurgis’s mindset when he is sent to prison after attacking Phil Connor. Ironically, to Jurgis, the prison is actually an environment far preferable to the cruel, filthy world of Packingtown. Here he receives shelter from the elements and food without having to do anything; he believes that his family members are the real prisoners, as, without his support, they now face starvation and eviction. It is a measure of Jurgis’s sympathy and of the horrible conditions that the family is forced to endure that Jurgis actually wishes that his family were sent to prison in his place. Additionally, Jurgis’s rhetorical question at the end of the quote speaks to the cold and unsympathetic nature of capitalism: if the women and children cannot earn the means to survive, it is because they aren’t productive enough as laborers.