Most of the novel takes place in the Stockyards of the South Side of Chicago. Packingtown is where Jurgis and Ona live. The financial challenge is evident in that they are not the only ones who endure such hardship. Everyone in this setting is challenged economically and struggles to make their American Dreams a reality. Packingtown is near the meat packing factories where work is dehumanizing and degrading.
Even though these packinghouses and their particular methods are gone, the drive to get employees to do more work for less money still exists, as does the practice of handling merchandise, whether it is meat or information, as expediently as the law allows. By symbolically linking the fates of the immigrants with the treatment of the butchered food products, the book establishes a nearly perfect link between setting and theme, which, even more than the sheer mass of gruesome details, accounts for the impact of the stockyard setting upon the minds of readers throughout the decades.
In this light, one can see the setting of where Jurgis and Ona live have thematic applications in Sinclair's work.