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In the fall, with the weather getting chilly, Jurgis can no longer survive happily as a tramp and returns to Chicago with fifteen dollars hidden in his shoe. This time he is wiser; he is no longer taken in by false advertisements in the newspaper and he gives a false name when offered a job, pretending to be a newcomer to the city.
His job is to help build tunnels for what he is told is telephone wires. In reality, the tunnels are part of a scam by the packers to build underground freight tunnels by which they can destroy the teamsters union, which is responsible for the loading and unloading of trains. Jurgis knows nothing of this, of course, and is happy to have the work.
The work is hazardous, however, and Jurgis is seriously injured in an accident. He regains consciousness in a hospital, which he is compelled to leave after two weeks, although he is still weak and unable to work. He has only seventy-five cents with him and a dollar and a half due for his last days' work.
Jurgis ends up on the streets in the cold and snow, with an injured arm and no overcoat. He tries to keep warm in the saloons. When this fails, he enters a religious revival meeting where the well-fed preacher's talk of saving souls angers him immensely. After the meeting, Jurgis tries unsuccessfully to take shelter in the station house, but it is full and he is forced to spend more of his dwindling funds on a lodging house. At the end of six icy days, Jurgis is completely broke and reduced to begging. Even in this occupation, Jurgis finds himself outdone by the "professionals," who can make a greater show of looking pitiful than he can.
Ironically, the hero finds his happiest and most comfortable Christmas is the one he spends in hospital; the one earlier Christmas described in any detail is the one Jurgis spends in prison.
In this chapter, Sinclair shows how everything, including the helplessness of a poverty stricken man like Jurgis, can be put in the service of making a profit -- hobos are often used by saloon owners as "sitters," in order to attract customers who will buy them drinks out of pity and thus increase sales. The "professional mendicants," who have perfected numerous ruses to affect disability and attract sympathy have commercialized poverty and made it a business. Jurgis, who is really cold and injured, is no match for these men. Even the clergy make a profit out of the extreme poverty in the community. Well-fed and clothed, they preach to half-starved men about their souls, when their real problem is that they are not allowed to earn enough to survive.
The only refuge Jurgis has is the saloon, Every time he gets a coin, he immediately rushes into one, where, for the price of a drink, he can get warmth, food and companionship. When those whom he begs from see him doing this, they are disgusted, but Sinclair takes pains to point out that for many working men and beggars, there is no other place to go. Indeed, the food offered in the saloons is better than they can obtain elsewhere. Sinclair was opposed to drinking himself and recognized the destruction it caused within the working class, but he was extremely understanding of the circumstances that led men to drink.
At the end of the chapter, Sinclair returns once again to the jungle metaphor with his description of the Detention Hospital, where the dregs of humanity are "barking like dogs, gibbering like apes, raving and tearing themselves in delirium." This is the absolute lowest point a person can sink to, and at this moment, it almost looks like Jurgis might meet this fate.