The family works all summer and saves enough money so that Jurgis and Ona can be married in the fall. The wedding feast leaves them over a hundred dollars in debt and embittered by their fate. The family is beaten down by work, but Jurgis stays strong and tries to be a good man and protect Ona. The family now realizes that they are surrounded by cheating, lies, and dishonesty and must struggle against the world.
The wedding feast mentioned here is the same feast described in the first chapter of the novel. The dishonesty of the guests at the wedding feast leads to the family's disillusionment. Despite hardships, Jurgis is strengthened by his love for Ona. The family's optimism is replaced by a will to survive and protect themselves from the evil forces around them.
The children are not well. All the food and medicine available in Packingtown has been doctored with chemicals and dyes. It is impossible to find warm, quality clothing or bedding—everything is made from cheap cotton and strips of old clothes. They have a vermin infestation and buy "insect powder," which consist mostly of harmless gypsum. They sink further into miserable destitution.
The poor quality of food, medicine and clothing in Packingtown shows the lack of regulation and the indifference of the owners to the suffering of the workers. The owners only care that there are workers, and see each individual person as replaceable. There is nowhere to go to find quality goods and the family becomes increasingly trapped.
Dede Antanas develops a bad cough and sores on his feet from the chemicals in the pickling room. Determined to contribute to the family, he ties up his feet and continues working until he collapses and is sent home where he wastes away and dies. The family can only afford a minimal funeral and Jurgis has to bargain over the expenses.
Working conditions in the plant are literally lethal, especially to the weak and the old like Antanas. Antanas refuses to give in because he derives purpose from working and contributing to the family. In preparing for the funeral, Jurgis is consumed with financial concerns, which replace emotional concerns, showing the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. Even the medicine or anti-pest materials they buy seem to be part of the corrupt system that exists only to drive them down and profit from them.
Winter comes and kills off the weak and sickly, making room for new workers to replace them. Thousands of unemployed, starving men throng to the gates of packing houses in the freezing cold to try to find work.
Like cogs in a machine, the workers are easily replaced. There are not enough positions to meet the vast numbers of unemployed men, and only the fittest are able to find work. The owners have all the leverage.
Men, women, and children struggle to get to work in the brutal cold. One morning, a boy who works at the lard machine with Stanislovas shows up to work screaming in pain. His ears have frozen stiff and break right off. This gives Stanislovas a mortal fear of the cold, and he must travel to and from work with Jurgis everyday.
The brutal Chicago winter makes it difficult for workers to survive, and takes an especially gruesome toll on children, like the boy whose ears are frozen off. Children are the hapless victims of an unfeeling capitalist machine.
The meat plant is unheated, and men work in horrifically dangerous conditions, with blood freezing on them and congealing to their feet. With numb hands, they butcher animals and run around through the steam with sharp blades, leading to grisly accidents.
The owners disregard the safety of the workers and force them to work in freezing, dangerous conditions. Every time it seems like things couldn't be worse, it gets worse. Exposing these unimaginable—but real—conditions in Chicago's meatpacking industry was part of Sinclair's muckraking project in writing the novel.
The only place where workers can eat lunch is "whiskey row," a nearby avenue lined with saloons. In order to sit in a warm place and have lunch, you must also drink, and the workers develop drinking habits. Unlike the other men, Jurgis only has one drink at lunch and goes straight home to Ona after work.
One way that people profit off the suffering of the workers is to lure them into saloons and encourage them to spend their money on drinking. Jurgis is stronger than the other men not just physically but, at this point, morally and psychologically, and resists this temptation. That he rushes home to his family suggests that it is his love for his wife that gives him this strength which most of the other men lack.
At night, the family is haunted by vicious cold. Their flimsy housing and inadequate clothing offer no protection.
The family has been stripped down to a primal, animalistic struggle for survival and their former dreams of happiness have been crushed.