Grandmother Majauszkiene, a wizened old Lithuanian neighbor, explains to the family that houses such as the one they have taken are a swindle. She and her son were lucky enough to make the payments long enough to own the house but most people are never able to do so. She explains that the houses are more than fifteen years old and that they were built with the cheapest, shoddiest materials. No one is able to buy the houses because, for the Packingtown workers, missing even one month’s payment means eviction and the forfeiture of everything paid on it. The family is shocked to learn that they have to pay interest on their debt, bringing the actual monthly payment close to twenty dollars.
Grandmother Majauszkiene came to Packingtown when the work force was mostly German. The Irish took the Germans’ place, and now the Slovaks have taken the place of the Irish. The companies grind down and wear out successive generations of immigrant workers. Four families tried to buy the home that Ona, Jurgis, and their family now live in. One by one, each failed due to the death of a key wage earner through accident or illness.
By paying ten dollars to the forelady, Ona obtains a job sewing covers on hams in a cellar. The young Stanislovas lies about his age and obtains a job working a lard-canning machine.
Ona and Jurgis’s veselija has put them over a hundred dollars in debt. Illness strikes the family frequently due to the unsanitary conditions of Packingtown, but no one can take a day off work to recover.
Winter brings bitter cold and impassable snow drifts. The companies don’t provide adequate heating at work. There is a wave of death in Packingtown as the bad weather and disease claims the weakened, the hungry, and the old, including Dede Antanas. Thousands wait to take the vacant places in the plants. Many men succumb to the allure of whiskey and beer and become alcoholics. Jurgis resists these temptations because he is determined to shield Ona and their family from the tortures of homelessness and starvation.
Tamoszius, a musician, begins to court Marija. His fiddle-playing brings a note of cheer into the family’s life. He is also a popular guest at various celebrations because he is a musician. He invites Marija to most of them; if the hosts are his friends, he invites the entire family. These celebrations aid the family in surviving the relentless monotony of toil and poverty. Tamoszius proposes to Marija and she accepts. They plan to finish the attic in the house and use it for their room.