Marija’s fear about being weighed down into the mud by her money is a metaphor for the evils of capitalism. Sinclair argues that this system of greed oppresses individuals; here, Marija’s coins are a concretized form of money that physically oppresses her. The unassailable primacy of money has conditioned her to guard her money with her life. Marija’s quasi-religious devotion to her coins seems to recall Jesus’ admonition, according to the New Testament that “[i]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Though she clutches the money not because she is greedy but because she needs it to survive, Marija has been distorted by capitalism into an un-Christian figure, descending into the mud of base desire.
Throughout these chapters, Sinclair accuses capitalism of undermining the family. Ona has to return to work a mere week after giving birth. She doesn’t have the opportunity to be a mother to her child. Almost everyone is happy when the crippled Kristoforas dies because, from a reasoning, mathematical point of view—which is indeed the lens through which these immigrants must examine their lives—the child is a drain on the family’s resources, a consumer without being a producer. Jurgis’s long work hours prevent the development of a strong bond with his son. The desperate need for sustenance takes priority over sympathy and love, as evidenced by Jurgis’s beating of the frostbitten Stanislovas. Jurgis and his family’s poverty, a result of capitalist economics, prevent them from being together as a family. Jonas even disappears without warning; it is possible that he dies while at work, but it is more likely that he simply abandons the family, which has deteriorated into a collection of individuals struggling to eke out an existence. Within the capitalist system, families are a burden best avoided if a single individual wishes to survive.