Summary: Chapter 22

Jurgis looks at Antanas’s dead body and leaves the house without a word. He walks to the nearest railway crossing and hides in a car. During his journey, he fights every sign of grief and emotion. He regards his experiences up until now as a lengthy nightmare that he has had to endure. He rides the railway car into the country. The clean air and space revive him, and he jumps off when the train stops. He bathes and washes his clothes in the nearest stream. He tries to buy food at a farmhouse but the farmer sends him away because he doesn’t feed “tramps.” Jurgis makes his way across the farmer’s field, ripping up a hundred young peach trees in response.

Another farmer is kind enough to sell Jurgis a dinner and let him sleep in the barn. He offers Jurgis work; Jurgis asks if there is enough to last all winter. The farmer says that he can guarantee work only through November. Jurgis sarcastically asks if he turns his horses out for the winter as well since they are useful for only part of the year. The farmer asks why a strong man cannot find work in the cities in the winter. Jurgis explains that everyone thinks that there must be work in the city in the winter and that the cities therefore become overcrowded. As a result, many of these laborers end up having to steal and beg in order to survive. Jurgis turns down the farmer’s offer of work and continues on his way.

Jurgis earns a few meals with odd jobs, stealing and foraging when he isn’t working. After a while, he stops asking for shelter from farmers because so many are hostile to him. He feels like his own master again. He learns a few tricks and secrets from the other tramps in the countryside. Farmers are almost frantic for help during this season, and work is easy to find. Jurgis works for two weeks and receives a sum that he would have earlier considered a fortune. He spends all of it on alcohol and women in one night, and his own conscience judges him mercilessly for this waste.

Summary: Chapter 23

Jurgis returns to Chicago in the fall because the cold weather is upon him. He finds a job digging underground tunnels for railway freight. The purpose of the tunnels is to break the power of the teamster’s union, though Jurgis remains unaware of this goal for a year. Confident that the job will last all winter, he spends his money on alcohol with abandon. Unfortunately, however, he suffers an accident and breaks his arm. He spends Christmas in the hospital. After two weeks, he is ushered out of the hospital, to his dismay. It is the dead of winter. He attends a religious revival with other bums just to stay warm. He despises the men preaching at the revival since he feels that they have no right to talk about saving souls when men like him only need a “decent existence for their bodies.”

Summary: Chapter 24

That winter, work is scarcer than ever before, and Jurgis must fiercely compete with the other homeless poor for the hiding places and warmth in saloons. One night, while begging, he happens upon a very drunk, well-dressed young man named Freddie Jones. Jones invites him to his house for a meal and offers to pay for the cab ride there. He hands a bill to Jurgis and tells him to pay the cabbie and keep the change for himself. Jurgis finds that it is a one-hundred-dollar bill. The opulence and luxury of Freddie’s mansion astound Jurgis. He learns from Freddie’s drunken rambling that he is the son of “Jones the packer.” Jurgis realizes that the elder Jones owns the factory where he first worked in Packingtown. Freddie gives Jurgis a large dinner despite the obvious disapproval of the butler, Hamilton. Once Freddie falls to sleep, Hamilton orders Jurgis to leave. Hamilton tries to search him, but Jurgis threatens to fight if Hamilton lays a finger on him.

Analysis: Chapters 22–24

As Sinclair portrays the destruction of the immigrant family through the brutal machinery of turn-of-the-century capitalism, he continues to focus principally on the development of Jurgis’s character. The accumulated tragedies in his life have emptied his emotional reserves, as evidenced by his inability to grieve adequately for his son. This final blow compels him to abandon the moral and social principles (such as loyalty to family) to which he has thus far clung and instead adopt the dog-eat-dog values of the world in which he lives. According to this new outlook, if someone deals him a blow, he deals one back. When the farmer refuses to sell him a meal, Jurgis responds by vandalizing his property, tearing up his newly planted peach trees. The conditions of poverty and misery created by capitalism have annihilated his ability to invest emotionally in his family, and he abandons Teta Elzbieta, Marija, and the other children because he does not have the emotional reserves to watch them sink, either literally or figuratively, into ruin. Without this crucial anchor, Jurgis gives himself over to complete debauchery—Sinclair again positions capitalism as a threat to fundamental American values.