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The family's finances are in tatters, with Marija still unemployed and living off fast-dwindling savings. She has given up hopes of marrying, as she realizes the family cannot survive without her. There is no respite from their financial panic. The water pipes burst and they spend a small fortune to have them repaired. When they pay their house installment in January, they learn that, according to their deed, they must begin paying insurance premiums. Jurgis finally confronts the house agent and tells him that the deed has been signed and that he has nothing to gain by keeping any more costs secret. The agent reads him the deed and, though he realizes he has been thoroughly cheated, he is relieved, at least, to know the worst of it.
Spring brings relief from the cold, but the stifling midsummer heat is also a killer in the killing beds where Jurgis works. On a particularly hot day, three men die of sunstroke at Durham's. The house is also flooded with swarms of flies that plague Packingtown in summer.
In late spring, Marija's can painting factory reopens. However, a fatal error soon costs her the job. She complains to the superintendent about the accountant cheating her out of pay for three hundred cans and is dismissed. After wandering the yards for days Marija is employed as a beef-trimmer. The conditions of work are inhuman and the pay meager. Tamoszius continues visiting her but the marriage seems a distant dream.
Ona makes a shocking discovery at work. Her forelady, Miss Henderson, lives in a bawdy house downtown and is the mistress of an Irishman called Connor, the boss of the loading gang at Brown's. Girls from the wrapping department are supplied to the bawdy house. Ona now realizes the forelady dislikes her because she is a decent, married woman. Miss Henderson harasses Ona constantly, but the girl, having learned a bitter lesson from Marija's fate, is afraid to complain. Ona also hides her discovery from Jurgis.
Little Antanas, Jurgis and Ona's son is born, safely delivered by a doctor. Ona stays away from work only a week after the birth. Consequently, ill health begins to plague her.
Ona's ailments foreshadow the fact she will not survive. Frail and innocent, Ona is poorly equipped for life in Packingtown. Ona's discovery of the prostitution racket at the wrapping plant gives the reader clear indication that she will be driven to the same fate herself someday. The "whiff" of the forelady's downtown house where these activities are conducted is like the symbolic stench of Packingtown itself. It constantly hangs in the air at Ona's workplace. Though frail and young, the need for survival is teaching Ona wisdom that Jurgis is yet to learn. She hides her discovery from her husband because she is sure his knowing will have cataclysmic repercussions on the family. Her fears, of course, will come true.
The poisoning of Marija's hand is also foreshadowed when she becomes a beef trimmer, and Sinclair depicts all the possible fates of one who works her job. Even the tough and jolly Marija is being broken by her animal-like existence. Tears run down her cheeks as "the voices of unborn generations...cried out in her for life." The inarticulate Tamoszius' music speaks for him; it is "passionate and heart-breaking." His music represents the couple's feelings. The reader can already see that their dreams are destined to be stillborn.
Although America is a democracy, the way the workers are tied to the packing machines for life and the sexual exploitation of women workers is reminiscent of slavery. Only here there is no difference in color between master and slave. Sinclair also speaks of the class divide between the white collar and blue-collar workers. Even if they make a meager salary themselves, the clerks and office assistants who work for the packers live in a different part of town, dress differently and associating with their bosses, whose ranks they will never join, look down upon those who work with their hands.
Though the family was not well to do in Lithuania, they were able to feed themselves and even save some money. The constant worrying about money and survival in Packingtown is a new torture, wearing them down mentally and physically and changing their personalities.
The house agent finally sheds his pretentious civility. His fresh demands for money become strident, now there is no reason to hide the details of the contract. Jurgis realizes he has been cheated, but cannot even imagine defeat. The reader however can clearly see that the family is destined to lose the house.
The birth of little Antanas is a decisive event, especially for Jurgis. It makes him "irrevocably a family man." The baby, born in such adverse circumstances is also a ray of hope, a "tiny mite of human possibility." Even this hope will be denied the family, however, as the baby will eventually die, drowned in the raw sewage that surrounds the house.