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Critical Essay - How The Other Half Lives - Book Report/Review Example

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YOUR NAME August 7, 2011 How the Other Half Lives The book How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis, is about life among the poor people who lived in New York City at the end of the 1800s. It contains both stories of people's lives as Riis witnessed them, basic descriptions of the poor parts of the city, and lots of photographs and pictures of the conditions he saw there…
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Critical Essay - How The Other Half Lives
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Critical Essay - How The Other Half Lives

Download file to see previous pages... Regardless, it did give me a good picture of some of the problems America faced in the 1800s and the move to Modern America. The theme of the book is poverty, and how it affects people and makes their lives miserable. There are numerous stories in the book with this theme, as well as ones where people just carry on living even in spite of the poverty. There are also statistics, such as the number of those families who were below the poverty line or the fact that one in ten people who died in New York from 1885-1890 was buried in the graveyard reserved for those without any money (243). The author's purpose to the book was to show people in America who lived in wealth or middle class homes that not everybody in the country was so lucky, and to make them think about how lucky they were and probably also to see if they could do something about it. As Riis says in the introduction to the book, in history "the half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath, so long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat" (1). According to Riis, most of this had happened in the distant past, but it was still the case in New York City, which was newer than most places and had only recently experienced large populations of the poor moving into it at once (2). The question he wants to ask with the book is "What are you going to do about it" (3)? In the rest of the introduction, Riis suggests ways that the American people, and the government of New York specifically, could actually do something about it. He suggests that employers need to build houses for their impoverished workers so that the tenements can be destroyed, and the sad, distressing lives they cause can go with them (4). In keeping with the time he lived in, Riis ends his introduction, and the most explicit statement of his purpose, by calling on people's better, "Christian" nature, which today would perhaps not always be the case (5). Although How the Other Half Lives probably did make a slight change for the better when it was published, and people were no doubt shocked to learn all this stuff that they would have preferred not to think about, the effect obviously did not last very long. If you look at big cities today, there are still the same kinds of injustices and inequalities going on. For instance, there is Los Angeles, which has a lot of homeless people and where people do not even care about them. Probably this is partly because of how old this book is. Even people who have read it today can just dismiss it as describing the life of the poor a hundred years ago, and not now. One of the most effective things about the book, which really made the problems it talked about easy to see and understand, was the photographs. They are spread throughout the book, and illustrate scenes such as market scenes (109) or people working on cigars in the same apartments that they live in, which are very small (143). These photographs are usually accompanied by text talking about them, and which make it really come to life even now, over one hundred years after the time the book was first published. The mix of different types of book did make this a little hard to read at times. It was confusing to see Riis switch from sort of neutral reporting where he just describes the problems the poor ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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