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After laboring through the summer, enough money is accumulated for Jurgis and Ona to marry in the fall, as per traditional customs. They are married in November and left a hundred dollars in debt by their guests. The morning after the wedding, everyone has to report to work. Ona is barely able to stand due to exhaustion, but is afraid she will lose her job, so she goes. Stanislovas is so sick at work that he nearly gets fired.
Jurgis tries his best to behave like a gentleman for Ona's sake. He wants to protect her from the harsh realities of the world, but fails. On her way to work one day, Ona gets caught in the rain and contracts a severe cold that tortures her for two weeks. She cannot afford even a single day off, however. Ona's forelady is also exceptionally cruel to her. The children keep falling sick because the house has no sewer and the food, milk and medicines they buy are adulterated. With a harsh winter approaching the family saves to buy clothing and bedding, but even that is sub-standard.
Dede Antanas' health worsens rapidly in the dark unheated cellar where he works. His feet, soaked in harsh chemicals all day, develop severe sores, yet he does not quit. One day, however, he collapses at work. He is brought home and survives a few days, clinging to the hope that he will be able to resume work soon. Jurgis has little money for his father's funeral and bargains hard for the minimum "decencies."
This chapter links back to the opening scene of the book; the marriage of Jurgis and Ona. As was hinted at in the first chapter, the veselija has not covered the wedding expenses, and the young couple is left with a staggering debt. An important unanswered question that remained at the end of the first chapter is also answered -- Ona does report to work the day after the wedding, despite Jurgis' protestations to the contrary. In describing the tragedy of the couple, Sinclair waxes poetic: "They had opened their hearts, like flowers to the springtime, and the merciless winter had fallen upon them. They wondered if ever any love that had blossomed in the world had been so crushed and trampled!"
The marriage evokes conflicting emotions in Jurgis. He begins to feel Ona is too good for him and is afraid of losing her. Once again, the technique of foreshadowing is used to create the feeling that Ona is in great danger. Ona senses that the forelady does not like her girls marrying and innocently believes this is because the forelady is a spinster. The reader, however, is encouraged to read sinister motives into the forelady's behavior.
A new cynicism is also dawning in Jurgis. He is learning the truth about Packingtown and its ethics. Traditional values -- like the ones that Teta Elzbieta and Dede Antanas hold dear -- are turned topsy-turvy by Packingtown's realities. Jurgis' character is evolving, and he is slowly absorbing the stockyards' principles: you do not invite others to feasts, but, rather, you await invitations; there are hostile powers all around: and your soul must be full of hatred and suspicion. Most importantly, Jurgis' illusions about the meat barons are shattered. He realizes they are the biggest liars in Packingtown. This is a dramatic reversal of Jurgis' earlier, naive stance.
Sinclair has given the winter cold a life-like personality, calling it "a living thing," "a demon-presence," "a grisly thing," and "a power primeval." The symbolic comparison between winter in a forest and in Packingtown reinforces the jungle metaphor. "Now the dreadful winter was come upon them. In the forests, all summer long, the branches of the trees do battle for light, and some of them lose and die; and then come the raging blasts, and the storms of snow and hail, and strew the ground with these weaker branches. Just so it was Packingtown; the whole district braces itself for the struggle that was an agony, and those whose time was come died off in hordes." Like the weak branches of trees, men in the stockyards are dispensable objects. When those who serve as cogs in the machine become damaged parts, they are replaced.
Black humor illustrates some points in this chapter. An advertisement asking for 200 men to cut ice draws a crowd of 3,000. The number 200 happens to be a printing error; only 20 men are needed. Ultimately, police reserves are sent in to quell the riot. Sinclair also uses black humor to note how literature rarely deals with the lives of the disenfranchised. "[Poverty] is a kind of anguish that poets have not commonly dealt with. Its very words are not admitted into the vocabulary of poets -- the details of it cannot be told in polite society at all. How for instance, could anyone expect to excite sympathy among lovers of good literature by telling how a family found their home alive with vermin...?" Sinclair contrasts the genteel aspirations of the educated with the harsh realities of the underclass.