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On Dumpster Diving by Lars Eighner Essay

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Updated: Nov 24th, 2021

Introduction

In course of human life it is often the case that one due to certain events or circumstances one has to review and alter one’s point of view and outlook on life. Soul-searching leads to acquisition of a new understanding of life and a new set of values resulting in changing one’s lifestyle and preferences. The reasons for such radical changes can vary from financial to emotional, and one of the widespread situations when a person experiences a renewal of outlook on life is, inter alia, changing of habitat: moving from one country to another, rising or descending in the social hierarchy, or simply losing one’s usual place of residence. The latter happened to Lars Eighner who in his essay On Dumpster Diving described his experience of living on the street and surviving there due to dumpsites which provided him with everything necessary and moreover, taught him some lessons.

Body Paragraph I

Eighner starts his essay with the introduction to the topic of Dumpsters, providing an etymological analysis of ‘Dumpster’ and a linguistic one of the typical words for describing the activity of overhauling dumpsites and explaining his preferences for the word ‘scavenging’ among all the other possible synonyms by the fact that it is the most accurate, sound and devoid of ambiguity. After directly stating his involvement into scavenging and mentioning the circumstances that led him to it, Eighner proceeds to discussion of scavenging activity as such according to a scheme “beginning with the practical art of Dumpster diving and proceeding to the abstract”, which reminds one of the possible outlines for a research paper.

Body Paragraph II

The first practical part comprises a detailed instruction of what food is safe to eat from Dumpsters. Claiming that at some time in one’s life anyone would not be able to resist the temptation of picking up something attractive from a Dumpster but only “eating from Dumpsters is what separates the dilettanti from the professionals”, Eighner provides a whole lecture on kinds of food available at dumpsites and the dangers connected with each of types. While such foods as canned goods, raw fruit and vegetables, candy, pizza from delivery shops, yoghurt and cheese are named among relatively safe ones, Eighner warns against any home-canned goods and prepared foods in general. Using three main principles of selection — common sense at evaluation of food to eat, familiarizing oneself with dumpsites within one chosen area, and finding the exact reason why the food was thrown away — constitutes a way to safe Dumpster diving as advised by Eighner.

Body Paragraph III

Basing on his experience of scavenging and watching the novices of the trade, Eighner observes several typical stages of the process and the qualities a respectable scavenger should possess. Possessed by self-disgust and loathing what one is doing, a beginning scavenger faces the task of overcoming a popular prejudice against “eating garbage”. Gradually, making new revelations and precious finds at the dumpsite, the newly-made scavenger changes his mindset and realizes that people throw away not only rubbish, but also totally new things in perfect order. Shyness evaporates and there appears a feeling of superiority over those who manage their belongings so poorly and recklessly. The main danger at this stage of acceptation of Dumpster diving is seen by Eighner in getting too involved into picking up throw-away things, without any necessity for doing so, just because of a psychotic desire. Scroungers are quite hateful in Eighner’s opinion as they break the unwritten law of honor which demands “leaving in good condition in plain sight” whatever cannot be used by a scavenger.

Body Paragraph IV

The issues of scavenger ethics and the message of dumpsites appear to be of interest to Eighner. People throw away correspondence and other personal things which may tell whole life stories, and on the basis of which Eighner makes insightful conclusions on certain aspects of society. For instance, he is deeply worried about what is going on among students whom he mentions throughout the essay. Children of well-off parents do not care about money once it has not been earned by them; the level of student and/or tutors competence has dropped dramatically judging on the grades that Eighner sees on thrown away student papers; students throw away good books instead of keeping them as food for thought — in all this there is an indirect statement of alarm over the development of younger generations.

Conclusion

By concluding his essay with the two lessons that he learnt — that of absence of value in what represents no material or artistic value; and that of “transience of material being” — Eighner directly highlights the message of his writing, which only at first sight appears a witty manual on how to survive at dumpsites. Upon a deeper reading, it becomes apparent that the author is concerned about the state of affairs in the world driven by ‘consumer society’ — people who take more than they need, and who accumulate the ‘garbage’ of things, feelings and relations that is of no value for them. Striving for possession of everything, fighting for belongings and neglecting politeness (the way the scroungers do), they forget that valuable things are only those that are really needed for an accomplished life.

Behind the humorous narration of On Dumpster Diving there is disguised an insightful tale of life teaching him — and hopefully his readers — a lesson of carefulness in treatment of possessions, politeness in treatment of people, importance of proper raising of future generations. Thus Lars Eighner sends a message to society which warns against turning one’s whole life into a big meaningless and worthless Dumpster.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'On Dumpster Diving by Lars Eighner'. 24 November.

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