Jerry’s: White-Collar Scholar to Blue-Collar Waitress
Creamy carrion, pizza barf, decomposing lemon wedges, and water-logged toast crusts; sounds like the typical garbage can. Would anyone believe that these phrases apply to a run-down restaurant in the middle of Florida? Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover at a local fast food diner known as Jerry’s to investigate life as a blue-collar laborer, serving to customers arriving in “human waves” (Ehrenreich 180). It is throughout her journey working for both Jerry’s and a factory known as Hearthside that she learns the difficulties faced with minimum wage and severe working conditions, and how the career you pursue and the environment that the career puts you in can change you. Through the usage of emotionally charged language, ethical and logical appeal, and varying sentence structure, Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay “Serving in Florida” reflects upon her hardships faced as a laborer receiving minimum wage in modern day America. Made evident through the use of logic, Ehrenreich establishes her credibility and creates a trustworthy bond between herself and the readers, allowing them to feel the pain she has felt as a blue-collar employee. The logic is, specifically, sensed through the footnotes of the essay. The very fact that she has footnotes establishes a sense of knowledge; a sense that the author clearly knows what she is talking about and wants the readers to know both what she is talking about and that she is a credible source. The footnotes provide other logical tools as well: allusions, historical contexts, even citations are mentioned. In her essay, Ehrenreich claims that Jerry’s insanitation forces the employees “to walk through the kitchen with tiny steps, like Susan McDougal in leg irons” (179). Also in the footnotes, she gives a historical context for the allusion to Susan McDougal, saying that she was “imprisoned for contempt of court, fraud, and conspiracy in connection with the failed Whitewater…” (179). Her extensive background knowledge and logical connection between the suffering of Susan McDougal and the Jerry’s employees clearly depicts the hardships that she is trying to present to the readers as well as proof that her job at Jerry’s and everything that she had been writing about is accurate. Her logic is also proven through pure historical context. For example, when she mentions that all of the girls who “work [her] shift” would conceal each other “if one of [them was] off sneaking a cigarette or pee,” she gives background information on the necessity of this, saying that “until 1998, there was no federally mandated right to bathroom breaks” (189). By giving the reader this context, she is sharing her knowledge of her current situation, and this information can effectively make an author come off as trustworthy and commendable. The basic information the author provides to a reader gives him or her a better grasp of the concepts in this essay that many people today may not understand. Logic effectively proves Ehrenreich’s credibility, but also makes it easier for the reader to understand her purpose for writing and publishing this essay.
The progression of crude and foul language shows one of the major hardships Ehrenreich faces: her transition from scholarly writer to poor waitress. She shows her desire to go back to her home, to her old, distant life. She becomes “so homesick for the printed word that [she] obsessively reread[s] the six-page menu” (182) at Jerry’s. Her dramatic measures show that even though she could have easily quit, she tolerates the pain of grueling through so many hours continuously and earning such low pay. What at first felt like something heroic, handling two jobs really took a toll on her. When she first started, she claimed to feel “powerfully vindicated –a survivor…” and used words such as “beautiful” and “heroic” (180) to describe the beginning of her short lived job at the factory known as Hearthside. But, directly in the...
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