New York: Sunshine and Shadow

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New York: Sunshine and Shadow
The “Sunshine and Shadow” section of the New York Documentary series by Ric Burns was certainly named for a purpose. Right at the start of the documentary section, it is made clear why the contrasting themes of sunshine and shadow are appropriate for New York in 1865. In the “Gilded Age” of America, there were two components of life in New York City. There was the image that was made visible to the general public and outsiders, which was the extreme wealth and expansion going on in the city at the time. This portion of the city is representative of the “sunshine”, symbolizing success, visibility, and fortune. Secondly, there was the latter part of life in New York City, the seemingly masked and forgotten aspect of New York City at the time, which was the poverty. This era in New York City marked a grossly contrasting socioeconomic age, with those living far beyond their needs, and the vast amount of poor living far below the poverty line. The rich businessmen in the city reaped millions from corruption, expansion, and laundering money, while the poor struggled to survive in packed tenements with large families. The poor worked constantly and brutally hard in low-paying factories, only to barely keep up with rent and food for their families. Corrupt businessmen such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and William Tweed illegally procured millions, redefining wealth, as the other half of New York City lived in disease and despair. There were mansions being built on 5th street, while several blocks away the other half of the New York City population struggled. Finally, in 1896, Jacob Riise published “How the Other Half Lives”, exposing the hidden aspects of life for the poor and sick in New York City. The publication contained real photos, taken of the tenements, bars, and homeless in the poor sections of New York. It brought to attention the unacceptability of the difference in lives of those in the “sunshine” and those in the “shade”.

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