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Jurgis is strangely affected by Antanas' death: he does not cry, but instead walks out of the house. After walking some distance, he reaches the railroad crossing and on impulse jumps onto a passing freight car. As the car enters the countryside, Jurgis is excited by the sights and smells and the idea that he will live in the country again. He is determined to no longer live as a slave and fool.
At dawn, Jurgis gets off the car and buys food at a farmhouse. At the next farmhouse, he is turned away, and he rips up a row of peach trees in retaliation. He then meets a farmer who offers him work, but he refuses when the man tells him that the work will not last through winter.
Jurgis enjoys the life of a tramp and regains his health and spirit. When his money is finished, he does odd jobs on farms and survives comfortably. Occasionally, he is troubled by thoughts of Antanas and Ona. In late July, Jurgis reaches Missouri, where harvesting is under way. He works in a harvest gang
and earns good money. On the weekend, having nothing else to do, he goes to town and spends the night in the saloon "in wild rioting and debauchery." Though ashamed of himself the next morning, he soon recovers his "strength and joy."
Still, he cannot escape the past. Stuck in a thunderstorm one night, Jurgis seeks refuge in a farmer's home. The man is a Slav emigrant like Jurgis. The sight of the man's year-old baby unleashes a storm of sorrow in Jurgis, and he rushes into the night.
It is important to note that, unlike his reaction to the death of his wife, Jurgis doesn't go on a drinking binge when his son dies. Evidently, he no more finds solace in liquor and does not consider it a remedy. Instead, something more drastic is needed -- a completely new life. While Ona's death numbed Jurgis, Antanas' death sets his mind working. The railroad crossing where he makes the decision to jump the train is symbolic -- Jurgis is at a crossroads in his life. The rebel in him that had been reined in by his son's birth is now free.
Why does Jurgis force himself not to cry? It is because he does not want to acknowledge the sorrowful part of his life any longer. He wants to break with the past and start a new existence in which he can actually "live." Jurgis is seized with the feeling that he is "fighting for his life." Yet this hardly seems overdramatic, even though there is no actual threat to his life, because life in Packingtown, which Jurgis is leaving behind, is worse than physical death; it murders one's soul.
Jurgis decides that the only way that he can survive is to fight for himself against the world, which he sees as his enemy. Sinclair uses imagery every effectively to illustrate the churning within Jurgis; on the train ride out of town he "[tears] up all the flowers from the garden of his soul." To be able to live, he must remove all traces of goodness and feeling from his heart. Jurgis' first act of rebellion is to ruin the freshly planted peach trees of a farmer who insults him. His war against society has begun; "the man who hit him would get all that he gave, every time."
Jurgis is also thinking and analyzing for the first time in his life. This change is illustrated by his conversation with the farmer who wants him to work during the spring and summer but will throw him out once winter comes. Jurgis asks him whether he will turn his animals out too, and the man does not have an effective answer.
With the cutting of all his bonds, Jurgis begins to think that he is now a free man, a "buccaneer." Compared to his prior life in Packingtown he is free, but this freedom is only an illusion -- Jurgis will soon find that those who take to the road are also chained by the system. The capitalists force a huge "surplus labor army" to travel from place to place looking for work, and an "army of women" who are also "struggling for life under the stern system of nature" are compelled to trail these gangs of men.
For all the changes that have occurred, he is still the same man at heart. For the first time Jurgis seeks out a prostitute. This fits in with his new personality, but later Jurgis feels terribly guilty, indicating to the reader that his conscience is still battling to remain alive. Later, when he meets the farmer's young son, he is tormented by memories. "Ah, what agony was that, what despair, when the tomb of memory was rent open and the ghosts of his old life came forth to scourge him. What terror to see what he had been and now could never be-to see Ona and his child and his own dead self stretching out their arms to him, calling to him across a bottomless abyss." Unable to bear the thought of what he has lost, he runs into the night. Clearly, his "own dead self" -- the old Jurgis -- is not quite dead.