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The dark side of life in America Critical Essay


With the challenges of modern day living, most individuals have to go to all possible lengths to earn a basic living. This is an element that has been well presented in authors Barbara Ehrenreich and Lars Eighner in their essays titled Nickel-and-Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and On Dumpster Diving respectively.

Ehrenreich assumes the life of a struggling low-wage earner while trying to find out how individuals in such levels cope with life. Eighner on the other hand finds himself in a tight spot after losing his job and has to contend with feeding off other people’s rubbish.

His essay is more of a guide on the ‘profession’ of dumpster diving and he tries to present the lifestyle in positive light. However, the unifying theme for both essays is poverty and the challenges that it brings along. The two authors spend a great deal of time trying to show how average and lowly individuals get by in life with or without a well defined income. This theme is well presented using such literary elements as style of narration and progression.

As far as the progression of the narrative is concerned, both authors begin by providing the readers with an explanation of how they find themselves in their current situation. Eighner dedicates a number of paragraphs explaining that she is a successful writer who however prides in experiencing the challenges that befall her subjects of study from a first-person point of view.

She goes ahead to explain the flow of events between the time she leaves her home and gradually takes the author through her experience as a low-income restaurant waitress upto the time that she throws in the towel and goes back to her old life.

The challenge of finding a decent place to live in at her income as is testament of how average unskilled female Americans have to contend with deplorable working conditions just for basic sustenance. The process of finding a job is equally tasking and it takes the author through disappointment after disappointment (Ehrenreich 174-175).

She answers the numerous call-outs for which she qualifies basing on the fact that she has no previous experience whatsoever and it takes some waiting before she secures one. The job search reveals the rot in the human resource departments of various companies when she learns that most of the job call-outs in newspapers are placed by companies as a way of finding easy replacements for the members of staff who quit or are sacked.

Eighner’s story has an equally well laid out narrative structure and he starts by elaborating his fascination with dumpster’s leading to a proper transition to the revelation that he went into dumpster diving even before he became homeless.

He then directly jumps into offering tips on how to successfully partake in the activity and he adopts a humorous approach that makes it easy for the reader to go through the journey of dumpster diving in a more relaxed way. The opinion of society as regards to poverty is elaborated when he explains how challenging it was for him to start out in the field occasioned by self-loathing and fear of mockery from friends and relatives.

The mistrust that most people have in regards to decisions made by the poor is manifest by how individuals have second thoughts pertaining to the quality of food items handed to them by the author “From time to time one of my companions, aware of the source of my provisions, will ask, “Do you think these crackers are really safe to eat?” (Eighner 167). It is definitely clear that the same individual would not question the safety of a mould-covered food item were it handed to him/her by a wealthy person.

Both stories provide thematic emphasis by having the narration from a first-person point of view. This works well especially because the two authors personally experienced the events in the narrations and only they are best placed to detail what they were going through at particular instances.

For instance, when Ehrenreich tells of her disappointment at failing to secure a job after numerous attempts, the reader can easily relate with her as she gives her heart-felt opinion using the same words that she would use were she to verbally narrate the story.

The same effect is created by Eighner’s assertion that he is “…not here by chance; the Dumpsters in this area are very rich. Students throw out many good things, including food. In particular they tend to throw everything out when they move at the end of a semester, before and after breaks, and around midterm, when many of them despair of college. So I find it advantageous to keep an eye on the academic calendar” (167).

In conclusion, it is worth noting that with the social aspects of urbanization and modernization, more and more individuals are finding it increasingly challenging to secure meaningful employment and most of them have to do with harsh working and living conditions. This has been well presented by two authors who narrate events from different perspectives but still succeed in trying to show the effects of poverty on the social fabric.

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. “Nickel-and-Dimed: On (not) getting by in America”. English Composition II: Writing about Nonfiction Prose. Slavicz, Susan, et al. Boston: McGraw‐Hill Learning Solutions, 2007. Print.

Eighner, Lars. “On dumpster diving”. English Composition II: Writing about Nonfiction Prose. Slavicz, Susan, et al. Boston: McGraw‐Hill Learning Solutions, 2007. Print.

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FrightfulFour. (2018, July 18). The dark side of life in America [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-dark-side-of-life-in-america/

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FrightfulFour. "The dark side of life in America." IvyPanda, 18 July 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/the-dark-side-of-life-in-america/.

1. FrightfulFour. "The dark side of life in America." IvyPanda (blog), July 18, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-dark-side-of-life-in-america/.


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FrightfulFour. 2018. "The dark side of life in America." IvyPanda (blog), July 18, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-dark-side-of-life-in-america/.

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FrightfulFour. (2018) 'The dark side of life in America'. IvyPanda, 18 July.

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