Summary: Chapter 3

Jokubas takes the family on a tour of Packingtown. They are amazed to see pens packed with tens of thousands of cattle, pigs, and sheep. The suffering of the animals, which will all be killed by the end of the day, daunts even Jurgis’s optimism. But the flurry of human activity fills Jurgis with wonder. Jokubas notes sarcastically the signs regarding the sanitation rules. The government inspector who checks the slaughtered pigs for signs of tuberculosis often lets several carcasses go unchecked. Spoiled meat is specially doctored in secret before it is scattered among the rest of the meat in preparation for canning and packing.

Summary: Chapter 4

Jurgis begins his job of sweeping the entrails of slaughtered cattle through trap doors. Despite the stench, he is filled with optimism because he earns a little over two dollars for twelve hours of labor. There are more encouraging signs: Jonas has a lead on a job, and Marija obtains a job painting labels on cans for nearly two dollars a day. Jurgis refuses to allow Teta Elzbieta, Ona, or the children to work. He wants the children to go to school, especially thirteen-year-old Stanislovas. Dede Antanas has no luck finding a job because of his advanced age, and he begins to worry that he is a burden.

The family finds a paper advertising the sale of four-room homes for fifteen hundred dollars. Buyers need only pay three hundred dollars down and the monthly payment is twelve dollars. Ona, Marija, and Teta Elzbieta visit the real estate agent, a slick, well-dressed man who speaks Lithuanian. He tells them that the houses are going fast and that they must move quickly. Later, Ona quickly figures their budget, and it seems that they can make the payments. The entire family makes a trip to see the house. To their disappointment, it doesn’t look as new or big as the one in the advertisement. The basement and the attic aren’t completely finished. None of the other houses appear occupied. Jokubas later tells them the entire deal is probably a swindle.

Ona and Teta Elzbieta, accompanied by Jokubas, meet the agent to close the deal. Jokubas reads the contract and notices that it refers to the house as a “rental.” They get a lawyer but are dismayed to find that he is the agent’s friend. He tells them that everything is in order. Ona and Teta Elzbieta close the deal. Jurgis falls into a frenzy when he returns from work and hears the details. He grabs the deed and storms out to find a lawyer, who explains that the house is merely a rental until the purchase price is paid; the house is called a rental to make it easier to evict people who fail to make the monthly payments. Pacified, Jurgis returns home.

Summary: Chapter 5

The family purchases household necessities and settles happily into their home. The pace of work in the slaughterhouse is demanding, but Jurgis doesn’t mind; he even enjoys it. He is surprised to find that everyone else hates their jobs and their bosses. Jurgis thinks that they are merely lazy and refuses to join the union, which is lobbying for a reduction in the pace of work.

One man promises Dede Antanas a job in exchange for one-third of his wages. Jurgis speaks to a friend and coworker, Tamoszius Kuszleika, about this practice. Tamoszius explains that corruption exists everywhere in Packingtown. From the top to bottom in the chain of power, people take advantage of one another. It is impossible to move ahead without taking part in the web of graft and corruption. Despite having to sacrifice a third of his wages, Antanas takes the job. He informs the family that he helps pack filthy meat for human consumption.

Marija learns that her job came at the expense of a fifteen-year employee. She also learns that Jonas obtained his job after his predecessor died as a result of the unsafe working conditions. Jurgis notes that unfit meat, such as calf fetuses and animals that have died of disease, are butchered and packed with the rest of the meat.

Analysis: Chapters 3–5

This section continues Sinclair’s demolition of the American Dream as he builds his argument against capitalism and for socialism. Jurgis, who still naïvely holds onto the American Dream, views the factories with undiluted optimism. Sinclair portrays him as utterly committed to the values of labor and family on which the American Dream is based. Again, he attempts to make Jurgis appear sympathetic to the average American reader. Unlike Jurgis, the more experienced Jokubas views the entire process with sarcasm because he knows better. He knows the corrupt owners of the vast meatpacking empire betray the values of the American Dream in every way possible.

The vast stockyards, packed with cattle, pigs, and sheep, demonstrate the marvelous efficiency of the economic machinery of the meatpacking industry. However, the animals packed into the stockyards and herded into slaughter serve also as metaphors for the immigrant laborers who crowd into Packingtown looking for the opportunity to earn a piece of the American Dream. Like these ill-fated animals, the unsuspecting Jurgis and other immigrants are herded into the machinery of capitalism and slaughtered en masse.

Sinclair’s description of the unsanitary and disgusting practices of the meat-packing industry consists of a two-pronged attack. First, he details the lack of sanitation in the factories in order to garner sympathy for the wage laborers who must work there. But the real impact of his exposé lies in his portrayal of the practice of selling diseased and rotten meat to the American public. Sinclair wants the reader to identify with the immigrant laborer through their victimization by the same enemy. The factory owners value their profits over the health of the workers and the public consumer.

The real-estate scam is another attack on capitalism. The agent lies when he says that the houses are “going fast” to pressure the family into acting without considering all of the conditions. The flyer advertising the houses is misleading. Moreover, the deed specifies that the house is a “rental” until it is paid for. The purpose is to make it easy to evict families when they start missing payments. With its emphasis on maximum profit, the scheme prioritizes corporate gain at the expense of the consumer. A poor family is given no leeway for missed or late payments. Instead, the family is thrown out of its home in times of financial crisis.

Tamoszius’s explanation of “graft” to Jurgis portrays capitalism as a machine that encourages and values corruption—anyone hoping to get ahead must become corrupt. Therefore, capitalism attacks the fundamental moral idea behind the American Dream, namely that hard, honest work earns its just reward. Sinclair attempts to show that, within capitalist economics, one cannot advance by means of hard work and a strong commitment to good social values. Instead, the enterprising individual must become a liar, thief, and predator to keep from being exploited.