How The Other Half Lives Analysis

Topics: Renting, Poverty, Landlord Pages: 7 (1539 words) Published: February 28, 2017


Affluence and Alcohol—the Causes of “How the Other Half” Lived
The Gilded Age was a term given to the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Mark Twain. For big business owners, gilded was an appropriate term to describe their lifestyles. Yet, for those who worked for these big businesses, life was anything but golden. Twain named the era to ironically describe life for the laborers. The horrific conditions people lived and worked in are captured in How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis. The author observes different areas of New York City, a place booming from industrialization, and reveals the irony of the era’s name. The fortunate few looked down on their immigrant workers, believing they chose to live the way they did. This was a time before labor unions were fully formed and the government regulated living spaces. Riis’s observations about different neighborhoods, age groups, and genders all point to unsanitary and undesirable environments for many people living in the city. He correctly concludes people with superfluous amounts of money are the primary cause of the widespread poverty, and names alcohol as a significant factor in the daily struggles of the laborers....

He describes countless homes and instances of diseases from overcrowding. Riis recalls a young husband and wife who “took poison together” in their tenement and after seeing their living space, he understood their reason. Their room was one of four in the attic, which had a “sloping ceiling,” a window that barely served its purpose, and almost no space to turn 180 degrees. The couple could not take the small room anymore, and believed death was better than the cramped space they got in someone’s attic. The living conditions were horrible enough to make some people take their own...
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