A very few days of practical experience in this land of high wages had been sufficient to make clear to them the cruel fact that it was also a land of high prices, and that in it the poor man was almost as poor as in any other corner of the earth; and so there vanished in a night all the wonderful dreams of wealth that had been haunting Jurgis.
After Jurgis and the family arrive in Chicago and head to the boarding-house where they will be staying, Jokubas warns them of the house’s poor condition. They begin to understand that America is not necessarily the land of riches that they envisioned when they set out from Lithuania. Even before they begin to have their own financial struggles, they see the rampant poverty in their new home.
Jurgis had come there, and thought he was going to make himself useful, and rise and become a skilled man; but he would soon find out his error—for nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good work. You could lay that down for a rule—if you met a man who was rising in Packingtown, you met a knave. That man who had been sent to Jurgis’s father by the boss, he would rise; the man who told tales and spied upon his fellows would rise; but the man who minded his own business and did his work—why, they would “speed him up” till they had worn him out, and then they would throw him into the gutter.
After Tamoszius describes to Jurgis how the owners and superintendents of the factories exploit the workers, the narrator reflects on the impossibility of Jurgis’s hopes of working hard and rising in the ranks. Rather, crime seems to be the only way to rise out of poverty for the working class. Jurgis eventually discovers this reality after he begins working with Jack Duane.
Among the people Jurgis lived with now money was valued according to an entirely different standard from that of the people of Packingtown; yet, strange as it may seem, he did a great deal less drinking than he had as a working-man. He had not the same provocations of exhaustion and hopelessness; he had now something to work for, to struggle for.
The narrator tells that when Jurgis begins committing crimes with Jack Duane and spends more time around people who have money, he notices the difference between his life before and his life now. Even though he has more money, he does not buy alcohol, because he does not feel the need to numb his senses as he did when he was working. When workers feel as exhausted and hopeless as Jurgis did, they can turn to alcohol, which wastes money and makes them less productive, thus continuing the cycle of poverty.