The interpretation of The Spirit of Capitalism in Nickel and Dimed

People have many motivations for working. For some it is more than just a paycheck, but also a fulfillment of something within themselves. Others are truly passionate about the jobs they choose and what they do. Some have the goal to simply get rich and retire early. Then there are the workers such as the ones in Nickel and Dimed. These low-paid employees are motivated to work by the necessity to pay bills and eat. It is possible to utilize Max Weber’s interpretation of the “Spirit of Capitalism” as a lens to look into Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and to understand the sense of irony and entrapment that Ehrenreich locates in American capitalism.

In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich includes the experiences of her co-workers – mostly women –in her investigative journey. She writes about how her co-workers were “oppressed” by being subjected to demeaning and taxing activities with unreasonably low wages. Gail, one of Ehrenreich’s co-workers, perfectly describes her manager’s attitude as “They don’t cut you no slack. You give and they take” (42). This point is further explored by Ehrenreich through the quote:

Cooks want to prepare tasty meals, servers want to serve them graciously, but managers are there for only one reason—to make sure that money is made for some theoretical entity, the corporation, which exists far away in Chicago or New York, if a corporation can be said to have a physical existence at all. (42)

The workers in Nickel and Dimed are doing the best they can at their jobs. The cooks and servers genuinely care about the comfort of their customers as well as the quality of their work. However, the managers still continue to treat them unfairly, because their primary goal is to make maximum profits for the company. Moreover, Ehrenreich also proposes that she has been changed, as a person, after entering this low-wage work community – “In real life I am moderately brave, but plenty of brave people shed their courage in concentration camps, and maybe something similar goes on in the infinitely more congenial milieu of the low-wage American workplace” (50). This is said after the manager of locked the storage room, and Ehrenreich chose not to intervene. This position in her work took something out of her, and for the time being, changed her entirely. This suggests that low-wage workers might be facing a similar situation, where in reality, they are someone completely different from the ones they disguise as during their low-wage works. The low-wage works have stripped them from their true souls, until they can find something better for themselves and reveal who they are.

In The Spirit of Capitalism, Weber quotes Benjamin Franklin to illustrate the basic beliefs of ethos: “time is money”, “credit is money”, “money is of a prolific, generating nature”, “the good paymaster is the lord of another man’s purse” (Weber, 14-15). These beliefs reflect the capitalist ethos of honesty, punctuality, self-discipline, hard work as an end in itself and devotion to one’s task. Putting it another way, Weber is describing the irrationality of capitalism where the sole purpose has become to make money even though the money may not fulfill other human needs. He suggests that people in a capitalistic society tend to view idleness as a squandering of moral duty. Weber believes that capitalism is presented as a natural order, or an “immense cosmos” (Weber, 19). We are born to this norm and believe that we must conform to it – it becomes what we believe is the main purpose in life.

Weber defined the term “The Spirit of Capitalism” as a desire for an increase in profits with the application of minimum effort. Thus, people in capitalistic societies needed to view work as a burden, which was to be avoided by all means. In addition, Weber notes that the spirit of capitalism cannot be quantified or defined in specific terms. “Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life” (18). According to Weber, capitalism is what has ensued to take over economic life, educating and selecting the subjects in the economy who will make a journey through the economic process of survival for the fittest. This is also conceived by the society as a way of life.

Weber’s and Ehrenreich’s illustration of the concepts of “The Spirit of Capitalism” is different in several ways. To begin with, it is important to note that Barbara Ehrenreich was born in a higher-middle-class family and may have grown to despise the unfortunate ones, until she actually placed herself in their position. Weber explains that the society believes that work is a burden that everyone ought to avoid at whatever cost and this is supported by Ehrenreich’s urge to survive and hence having to as hard as possible. It is impossible for her work less and be able to afford her own necessities; thus, work is inevitable. However, Ehrenreich is aggrieved that she, at times, received as little as $2.15 an hour for toiling in a store (Ehrenreich, 49). Weber’s argument of hard-work being rewarding may not be applicable in this particular case. In contrast, underpayment crushes the dream of hard working individuals as exemplified in Nickel and Dimed. Moreover, Weber holds onto the belief that honesty and truthfulness and dedication to one’s job yields satisfaction. This, unfortunately, is not the case for Ehrenreich and her co-workers. They work extremely hard for such little payment and even so, they can hardly accomplish their individual responsibilities and meet their needs. At times, they view work as a punishment, and they wish they could at least get time off. The thought that they need money does not allow them to stop working. The ‘masters of their pockets’ are not convinced to pay nothing but the ‘agreed’ amount based on the amount of work dissipated. These workers, therefore, lack motivation to even pursue bigger dreams in life.

Still, Weber’s notion of the spirit of capitalism manages to shed some light on Ehrenreich’s piece. The reason that capitalism is initially based on historical concepts such as bureaucracy lays a basis for the understanding of social classes that are explored first-hand in Nickel and Dimed. The rich are the owners of the resources while the middle class are their workers. The cycle is vicious as the middle class can rarely overtake the higher-ranked jobs from the higher class. This may help explain the phenomenon where people of the middle class are unable to dream big. Weber’s argument on the maximization of profits prompts a different perspective of Ehrenreich’s work. In order to maximize profits, the owner of the resources has to mitigate the risks involved. They may, therefore, decide to reduce the costs in order to gain huge profit margins. This would be important since the rich have to be there, in order for the poor to thrive; the latter depends on the earlier for survival. In a scenario where the owner of the resources is not present, the poor would not be able to find available jobs, no matter how little the wage. Thus, instead of blaming the employers for not paying them enough, Ehrenreich and the lower class workers should come to understand that the real reason behind such low wage is their lack of bargaining power.

Nonetheless, there are limitations that come with analyzing these two sources next to each other. Firstly, the ideals exposed within The Spirit of Capitalism are extremely idealistic. The piece does not take into consideration the issues between classes. It also puts forth the assumption that all people have the same capabilities, and therefore can capitalize on their abilities. Nickel and Dimed offers a much more realistic life view. While the author’s own father lived the American dream and truly did pull himself up from nothing, the author does not look at the low income workers she is observing with distaste or condemnation. She instead gracefully walks in their shoes, and quickly realizes that had she not had some of the special opportunities available to her, she would be no better off than her current restaurant co-workers. She comes to understand the realities they face every day while figuring out how to keep a roof over their head while still paying other necessary bills. The Spirit of Capitalism offers a much more unforgiving and harsh lens with which to view the employees through.

Secondly, Weber’s interpretation of the term “the spirit of capitalism” is limited in terms of its application in Nickel and Dimed. The premise that capitalism is based on the maximization of profits through minimum effort is highly refuted by Ehrenreich. She stoops as low as working as a maid and experience first-hand what it is like to be employed and poorly compensated. The accumulation of wealth by the employer is unfair to the employees who are treated as underdogs. Ehrenreich seems to underline the importance of employees to their employers. At the end, she even suggests mobilizing the workers to form movements to agitate for better remuneration. Besides, Weber’s concept of choice lacks its full meaning if Ehrenreich’s story is withheld. Ehrenreich and her colleagues have to no option but to take a low-paid job, no matter how unfairly-paid they are and how exhaustive the job really is. Their choices are dictated by their domestic and personal needs, which is to survive and take care of their kin. The limited job opportunities available are what they scramble for.

While Weber’s view of capitalism might be positively idealistic, in reality, the capitalist system is at odds with the protestant ethics and fall short of expectations. This can be attributed to the fact that it is mainly directed towards profit maximization while the interests of the employees are not considered a priority. To the contrary, making huge profits and exploiting the ability of employees is the most important thing to and for the capitalists. This is evident as Weber stated in his article, “They make tallow out of cattle and money out of men”. (Weber, 16)

The Abidance of an American Dream in Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Serving in Florida” and Adam Shepard’s Scratch Beginnings

A national ethos of the United States, the American Dream, is the ideal that all U.S. citizens should have an equal opportunity to achieve prosperity and success through persistence, determination, and hard work. There are countless stories, nonfiction and fiction, that shape the American Dream today. However, due to unequal opportunities and lack of education, some Americans are left hopeless and stuck in low-wage jobs and poverty. After her experience of living as a low class worker, Barbara Ehrenreich attempts to establish that it is most likely that low-wage workers will remain in minimum wage jobs and that the American Dream is unattainable in her experiment, “Serving in Florida.” However, Adam Shepard rebukes Ehrenreich’s assertion through his inquiry, Scratch Beginnings, where he starts from the bottom and strives to achieve his goals. Shepard attempts to change most Americans’ pessimism regarding the American Dream through his belief that a positive mindset can lead to success. Between the two works, Shepard’s use of ethos makes his argument more persuasive in the idea that the American Dream is achievable for anyone.

In pursuance of bringing the American Dream to life, Shepard brings the story of “rags-to-fancier-rags” to life. His goal was to change the lethargic attitude Americans have towards reaching what may seem elusive by showing them that a positive mentality and attitude can change their lives. Starting off his experiment with just twenty-five dollars, a sleeping bag, a tarp, an empty gym bag, a high school diploma, and clothes on his back, Shepard works toward his goal: a home, $2,500 in cash, and a stable position within 365 days. Shepard attempts to inspire Americans who are reaching for the American Dream by saying, “I’m not an extraordinary person performing extraordinary feats. I don’t have some special talent that I can use to ‘wow’ prospective employers. I’m average” (4). He claims himself to be nothing more than average, establishing that anyone whether they are classified as “ordinary” or “special” can achieve the American Dream.

Contrary to Ehrenreich’s claim that the American Dream no longer exists, Shepard molds his outlook of living in “a world of independence—free from responsibility—where each day would be [his] to seize, or, if [he] chose, to squander” (15). ­­He comes to a valuable conclusion that the homeless people in the shelter choose to live in “a world loaded with potential but short on ambition” (15). However, he strays from the rest of the crowd by encouraging and reminding himself, “Likewise, a day off would keep me from attaining my goal” (25). Shepard realizes that each day is valuable because he can be a day closer to achieving his goals. Throughout the time he had to work relentlessly every day, Shepard kept a positive mindset, which was one of the keys that unlocked the apartment he earned. He adds, “I knew that I was going to succeed. Now more familiar with my surroundings, I knew what I had to do to make it happen. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I had a plan, and now it was just a matter of putting my plan into effect” (35). Although there were times of success, there were also times of fear when Shepard was rejected to work for certain jobs, however, he still continued to push himself. He expresses, “My faith was fading, but I remained fearless” (43). Through frugal tactics and genuine effort, Shepard was constantly thinking ahead and taking advantage of little resources he had, which was how he earned his furnished apartment, $2,500 in cash, and a car in just six months.

As a successful woman who came from “craft work straight into the factory” (269), Ehrenreich comes to the conclusion that the poor will always be poor and the rich will get richer, failing to test her mathematical proposition and personal experiment. Unlike Shepard, Ehrenreich didn’t feel motivated and hopeful for her future by working low-wage jobs. She often felt as though she could not be her true self due to the pressure of being accepted by her coworkers. When her boss told her she can’t bond with her customers, she says she was “feeling like I’ve just been stripped naked by the crazed enforcer of some ancient sumptuary law: No chatting for you, girl” (271). Feeling stripped from her rights, she claims, “Chatting with customers is for the beautiful young college-educated servers in the downtown carpaccio joints, the kids who can make $70 to $100 a night” (271). Not only did she feel physical discomfort in her experiment, but she also felt emotional distress and insecurities, which discouraged her from believing she can make her dream a reality. Moreover, she conveys that working class people have to be discreet about skipping a shift, taking drugs, and so-called “lunch breaks” due to the “corporate rationality” (272). Looking back at her previous life, Ehrenreich realizes a significant difference between how middle and upper class workers get treated. Often times, middle class workers are treated like potential enemies, embarrassed by their employers, and lack basic rights like privacy and free speech. As a response from complaining customers, Ehrenreich admits that she started growing hatred for certain people whom she never sought to hate. She complains, “There are the traditional asshole types—frat boys who down multiple Buds and then make a fuss…” (271). She becomes cognizant of the fact that she might have changed from a person who got along with most people to a person who has personal bias towards a certain group. She also doesn’t recognize the moderately brave woman she was previously when she couldn’t stand up for George, one of her good coworkers. Unlike Shepard who felt encouragement and support from the homeless shelter, Ehrenreich felt negativity and constant pressure which caused her to eventually give up in her experiment.

Ehrenreich encounters twisted situations and fails to find the strength and motivation to get closer to the American Dream because of her negative attitude and mindset. On the other hand, Shepard pushed himself through adversities by keeping his positive attitude and mindset alive. The difference between Ehrenreich and Shepard is their outlook on overcoming difficulties with positivity. Shepard grabbed every opportunity to earn at least a penny a day. He didn’t look down upon any jobs—he worked for hours shoveling dog feces for only minimum wage. His attitude was that any job “would be better than nothing” (25). He concluded each day with a positive note for instance, “I was happy just to be working” (26). Moreover, Shepard asserts that everyone—including women—need to work just as hard as men do to achieve the American Dream. However, Ehrenreich implies that women have to depend on men for their success. As she was searching for a second job, she relates to her coworkers saying, “Of my fellow servers, everyone who lacks a working husband or boyfriend seems to have a second job” (272). Instead of feeling the excitement and urgency of having a second job, Ehrenreich implies that she is jealous of her coworkers who have a significant other. Ehrenreich’s American Dream consisted of intangibles: happiness, comfort, health benefits, and good working conditions. However, after her rude awakening, Ehrenreich established that it is impossible to attain the American Dream because of the horrid reality of the life of a working class individual.

According to Shepard, the American Dream is attainable for every American who puts his or her mindset in a positive light. Shepard attempts to bring the rags-to-fancier-rags tale to life in order to make his argument most compelling. His strong work ethic, good health, favorable personality, and positive attitude led him to his success: a furnished apartment, $2,500 in cash, a car, and a stable position. Through his investigation, Scratch Beginnings, Shepard demonstrates to the American body that an affirmative attitude is all one needs and that the American Dream does exist.

Conflict Theory in Nickeled and Dimed

The middle class of America is slowly disappearing. Over the past few decades, the ability of the average American to afford a living wage has been deteriorating, with many citizens being forced to hold two or even three jobs at a time just to make ends meet. In the non-fiction book Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, writer Barbara Ehrenreich showcases these difficulties by going undercover and living life through the low wages available to many Americans in an attempt to live in three different cities in America for a month each, with a goal of earning the next month’s rent within that first month of work. Throughout her endeavors, she finds many struggles both with her own situation and the situations of the many coworkers she meets along the way, showcasing the real-world occurrences of the social conflict theory, both through the class-based interactions between employees and their employers and through immersion in relationships among employees themselves.

In Nickeled and Dimed, Ehrenreich put herself into the world of the poor working citizen, establishing a low-rent living situation and working a low-wage job, and trying to find if she can acquire the necessary funds to live in each area. She lived in each area with a goal of finding the highest wage job she could keep, the lowest cost housing available, and not falling back on her previous skills of work. She claimed the process as sort of like an experiment, and while she just wanted to see if she could find a way to afford rent off of the low-wage jobs, her experiences led to a strong sociological analysis of the effects of class systems on low-wage workers.

Barbara Ehrenreich starts off Nickeled and Dimed in the City of Key West, Florida, a city that was near her home. She initially rents a trailer to live in, and acquires a job working as a waitress at a small restaurant in the area. Ehrenreich finds that the waitress job alone would not be enough to support herself and gets a second job as maid at a nearby hotel, but she soon finds the job too physically demanding and leaves. After 2 weeks, she comes to the conclusion that she cannot afford to pay rent, and moves on. The second city Ehrenreich lives in is Portland, Maine. Here she is unable to find an apartment, but takes advantage of the abundance of weekly rent hotels, finding an affordable hotel room to live in for a month. She again takes on two jobs, one as a housekeeper on weekdays, and another as a dietary aide in a nursing home during the weekend. She manages to make her rent for the month barely, but details the poor working conditions of the housekeepers. The third city that Ehrenreich attempts to live in the Minneapolis, Minnesota. Here she is unable to find a place to live due to very low vacancy, and ends up in a weekly motel with no bolt on the door. She gets a job at the local Wal-Mart, but it is incredibly low-paying and she is unable to eat anything more than fast food in order to afford her housing. Ehrenreich details the inner workings of how the Wal-Mart treated the employees, and her failed attempts to get them to join a union and demand better treatment. This month, like the first, was met with failure to maintain housing.

The biggest sociological theory that is displayed in Nickeled and Dimed is the Marxist-based conflict theory. Conflict theory states that among different groups and individuals that have differing levels of power or wealth, the more powerful group will use that power to exploit the weaker groups. In the case of the low-wage workers at the various jobs Ehrenreich worked at, they were constantly treated poorly by their employers, often being demeaned and insulted, and otherwise looked down upon. Florida’s example of conflict theory at work was with one of Ehrenreich’s coworkers, a Czech dishwasher whom she refers to as George. George did not speak English very well at all, and as a result there was a heavy language barrier. Within the first week of working, some items are found to be missing, and George is accused of stealing from the company. Unfortunately, with the language barrier, George is unable to defend his case, and gets fired from the company as a result.

The housekeeping job in Portland, Maine, had a demeaning training video, which represents conflict theory quite well. The video was set up in such a way that it appeared to be designed for young children. In one part, the man giving the instructions even says, “See, I am the vacuum cleaner.” Having the video set up as if it were for children displays how the company views its employees, as unintelligent people, unable to do anything properly without dumbed-down instructions. The employees are treated with further disrespect as health-based issues were largely ignored, only acknowledged with the simple remark of “work through it.”

The fear stricken into the lower class by the dominance of the upper class in conflict theory is showcased by the behaviors of one of the employees at the housekeeping job. The employee, referred to as Holly, refused to seek medical attention after injuring her ankle, despite being unable to walk without being in pain. Holly feared that if her situation prevented her from working for even a short while, she would lose her job and be unable to keep her meager living situation intact. Later it became apparent that Holly was pregnant; similarly, she refused to bring any sort of attention to it, in fear of losing her job entirely. It wasn’t until Ehrenreich asked for Holly to get medical attention that she was allowed a day off to see a doctor. Because of this level of fear, the upper class maintains its level of control over the lower class.

Wal-Mart displayed the concept of conflict theory with its sub-par treatment of employees as well. When Ehrenreich worked at the Minneapolis Wal-Mart, she found that the work was stressful and monotonous from the instant the interview started. The interview involved a series of questions designed to make the potential employee feel under severe scrutiny from the start, including many moral dilemmas such as dealing with coworker theft and dishonesty. This stage was immediately followed up by a drug test, showing an implied distrust for any potential employees and an assumption that drugs are the norm among the applicants. These practices displayed how the upper and middle class employers of corporations automatically assume the worst from the lower class employees, and work to put them down. The orientation process involved eight hours of tedious, repetitive teachings of Wal-Mart’s ideologies and propaganda, much of it stressing how fantastic Wal-Mart is as a company. Once actually employed at the Wal-Mart, Ehrenreich found that the employees would continue to be put down for every minor issue that came up. For example, one of the managers, referred to as Howard, would hound over any employees that would start talking, accusing them of “time theft,” or the act of not actively working while on the clock. In addition, Ehrenreich brings up a nature of competition that ultimately proves unhealthy. With the lower class employees being put into a position where they feel they have to prove their worth to the employers, every little mistake gets brought up by coworkers and is used to ridicule the perpetrator of the mistake. With these issues constantly brought to the surface, workers start to dislike each other; such corporate strategy helps to keep the employees from cooperating in a way that could benefit themselves over their employers and the company as a whole.

Ultimately, the issues of conflict theory are amplified by the ratio of income to the cost of living. With even the low cost housing options being way out of reach for many low-wage citizens, the ability for many of these workers to make enough money to properly support themselves can be incredibly difficult. Ehrenreich reveals the low-wage workplace environment as a place where basic civil liberties are stripped away, as people are made to work long hours for little reward, making their hard work all for practically nothing. The upper class puts out the illusion that the cure for poverty as a whole is simply employment, but Ehrenreich’s experiences, and those of many of her coworkers throughout the experiment, display the truth that simple employment is often not enough to get by in today’s society and economy. Unfortunately, with the belief system in place that the poor continue to be poor simply out of laziness and poor work ethic, the middle and upper class continue to dominate the lower class, with little to no action taken to actually address the poverty level.

Barbara Ehrenreich thoroughly displays the reality of the social conflict theory through her experience dealing with poverty-level wages in Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Many of the jobs that are easily attainable for the poor put them into positions where they are minimally cared for by their employers and are given wages that are insufficient for decent quality of life. Even the hardest-working employees of many of these companies are left without enough money to play rent each month. With the upper class employers able to control wages, hours, and expected work requirements, the lower class employees are forced to work longer and harder for little reward, often being forced to eat unhealthily or in small amounts, or otherwise work in conditions that carry the possibility of personal injury. Ehrenreich’s experiences showcased the impossible odds that many people go through simply to live a normal life in America, and how their employers do little to help them along the way. This dominance of the upper class over the poor is the true exemplification of social conflict theory.

Analysis of the American Reality, Possibility, and Dream found in “Nickel and Dimed” and “The Outsiders”

Every American is familiar with the concept of the American Dream. It is the social myth at the very core of the nation’s identity. Unlike other countries, the United States is not rooted in a shared ancestry, history, or language. Instead, Americans find their unity in a common aspiration—the hope of a better future for themselves and their children in the Land of Opportunity. This is the vision that drove the Puritans to brave the sea, inspired the founding fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence, and continues to bring immigrants teeming into the country. The American Dream is deeply rooted in the culture and psyche of the United States and its citizens. It is a common theme in literature as American authors struggle to interpret the social myth in light of reality.

One of the most beloved discussions and deconstructions of the American Dream is a novel written by Susan Eloise Hinton when she was only sixteen. The Outsiders chronicles the story of seven boys and their struggle to overcome the stereotypes forced on them by their community. Through the eyes of adolescence, Hinton analyzes the American Dream by addressing the gulfs that separate the Dream from reality, and the reality from the possibility of achieving the Dream.

Another book with a similar purpose is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. Unlike The Outsiders, Nickel and Dimed is a nonfictional account of Ehrenreich’s experiences as she attempts to support herself by working various blue collar jobs. Ehrenreich accuses America of abandoning the working poor who, she argues, are unable to support themselves on current minimum wage salaries. Furthermore, her exposé shows an economic system that encourages the abuse and dehumanization of its low-income workers. Even while she stresses the importance of financial stability to the fulfillment of the American Dream, Ehrenreich spends a large portion of the book illustrating how a lack of humanity, in the system and between the classes, is the root cause of the large gap between rich and poor. While Hinton and Ehrenreich approach the American Dream from two very different perspectives, both conclude that a mutual respect and understanding between all people, regardless of class, is essential to fully restore the Dream for all Americans.

The United States of America was founded on the notion that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” should be available to every citizen. The belief that these rights are available to every citizen is a great American myth. In his book The American Dream: The Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation, Jim Cullen calls this “idea that individuals have control over the course of their lives… the very core of the American Dream, the bedrock premise upon which all else depends” (10). Hinton and Ehrenreich both attack the validity of the myth that equal opportunity is a reality in America and identify it as a source of prejudice and misunderstanding between the classes.            

Ehrenreich’s opinions about poverty, before she began her undercover journalism research, correspond strongly with the way average middle and upper class Americans think. She describes how she “grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that ‘hard work’ was the secret of success” (Ehrenreich 220). When she attempts to support herself as a blue collar worker, however, she finds that “you [can] work hard—harder even than you ever thought possible—and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt” (Ehrenreich 220). In his book, Beyond the American Dream, Charles Hayes describes how the disconnection between the myth and reality stigmatizes the poor: The higher the level of social position reached… the more the people on that level seem blinded by the relative advantage of their position. For example, the middle class expects the bottom level to simply go out and get a job, failing to see the distinct advantage they themselves maintain through quality education and social connections. The typical middle-class businessman… sees himself as deserving while he sees those at lower economic levels as being lazy and undeserving. (18-19) During her experience as a temporary member of working class America, Ehrenreich found the work exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Working as a maid, she describes the “exercise” as “totally asymmetrical, brutally repetitive, and as likely to destroy the musculoskeletal structure as to strengthen it” (Ehrenreich 90). Many of her coworkers work through pain, malnutrition, or pregnancy in order to keep their jobs and because they can’t afford to take unpaid days off. Several of the maids have injuries, treated and untreated, due to their work. Despite the prevalent idea that the poor can break free from poverty simply by working hard, Ehrenreich’s coworkers endure body-breaking work without having the opportunity to save enough to change their situation or seek out a different job.              

Like Ehrenreich, Hinton also argues that equal opportunity is a myth that contributes to prejudice. In The Outsiders, Ponyboy, the narrator, lives in a world divided by social class. The poor kids living on the East side, labeled “greasers” by the rest of the community, endure a multitude of stereotypes and stigmas. Ponyboy, and the other boys who make up his adopted family, or gang, know the labels well. On their way to a fight, they “embrace the stereotypes” (Inderbitzen 360), chanting: “‘I am a greaser…, I am a JD and a hood. I blacken the name of our fair city. I beat up people. I rob gas stations. I am a menace to society. Man, do I have fun … O victim of environment, underprivileged, rotten, no-count hood!’” (Hinton 144). Despite their willingness to unite under these stereotypes, however, Ponyboy’s account of events brings the reader to a different understanding of the greasers. One member of the gang, in particular, allows the reader a fresh perspective on these dehumanizing stereotypes. Dally, who has “spent three years on the wild side of New York and had been arrested at the age of ten,” is the hardest kid of the group: “tougher, colder, meaner” (Hinton 19). Even Ponyboy, though he respects Dally, doesn’t like him. The tough façade rapidly crumbles, however, when Johnny, Dally’s friend, dies from injuries sustained while rescuing children from a burning building. “‘That’s what you get for tryin’ to help people, you little punk,’ Dally blurts at Johnny’s body, ‘that’s what you get…’” (Hinton 157). Dally’s own life circumstances have taught him that selflessness, such as Johnny’s heroic efforts, results only in personal disaster and pain. Since his childhood, Dally has learned to meet the world with a cold detachment in order to survive the harsh, inner-city streets. When he loses the only person who had slipped past his defenses and grown close to him, the pain overwhelms Dally. He pulls an unloaded gun on the police, forcing them to shoot him. Though Dally embodied many of the stereotypes forced onto all greasers, ultimately he was just a child trying to protect himself in a world where no parent had ever cared for him. The great tragedy of his death is that Dally still had the potential to be an extraordinary person. In him, Johnny saw a strong, “gallant” hero (Hinton 84), someone to look up to. Dally’s efforts to save Johnny from the fire at the risk of his own life provide a glimpse into the person he might have become had the circumstances been different. Unlike the labels suggest, Dally was not ruined beyond repair or redemption by his environment. He was still a human being, and, as such, he still had the ability to choose who he might have become. The myth, therefore, perpetuates stereotypes that prevent empathy and guidance from being given to kids because they are viewed as already beyond help.                

Despite the myth of equal opportunity, the American Dream is still carried in the hearts of poor and rich Americans alike. Ehrenreich and Hinton each comment on what the Dream looks like through the eyes of the poor and compare it to the Dream as interpreted by the middle and upper classes. After examining the Dream of each class, both authors conclude that the Dreams are complimentary, not antagonistic. In Nickel and Dimed, the viewpoints of those struggling with poverty come in the form of interviews with Ehrenreich’s coworkers. Near the end of her job as a maid, Ehrenreich asks the women who she was working with how they felt about the owners of the houses they clean, “who have so much while others, like themselves, barely get by” (118). Answers two of the women give shed light on a commonality in the Dream held by each person struggling with poverty. Lori responds, “All I can think of is like, wow, I’d like to have this stuff someday. It motivates me and I don’t feel the slightest resentment because, you know, it’s my goal to get to where they are” (Ehrenreich 118). Colleen’s answer is somewhat different: “I don’t mind, really, because I guess I’m a simple person, and I don’t want what they have. I mean, it’s nothing to me. But what I would like is to be able to take a day off now and then… if I had to… and still be able to buy groceries the next day” (Ehrenreich 119). Though Lori and Colleen have different Dreams, the need for economic security is common to both. Without enough income to begin saving, the poor are trapped in their current situation without hope of escape. Even the ability to find a higher paying job is severely limited by lack of time, energy, and transportation. The smallest disaster could push their delicately balanced lives over the edge and leave them without either a job or money.            

The Dream of the rich, as expressed in Nickel and Dimed, comes from the author’s own perspective. Both Ehrenreich’s desire to research and write the book, as well as comments she makes about her own state of mind, reveal her own, middle-class Dream. Reflecting upon her “savior complex,” Ehrenreich admits, “Even my motives seem murky at the moment. Yes, I want to help Holly and everyone else in need, on a worldwide basis if possible. I am a ‘good person,’…, but maybe I’m also just sick of my suddenly acquired insignificance. Maybe I want to ‘be somebody,’…, somebody generous, competent, brave, and perhaps, above all, noticeable” (Ehrenreich 99). The need to matter is one she constantly wrestles with while preforming the menial tasks required of her from the various blue collar jobs she works. In order to cope with each of her jobs, Ehrenreich either finds meaning in it or creates meaning from pure fantasy. In what she calls a “psychic flotation device” (108), Ehrenreich pretends, “I am not working for a maid service; rather, I have joined a mystic order dedicated to performing the most despised of tasks, cheerfully and virtually for free—grateful, in fact, for this chance to earn grace through submission and toil” (108). Unlike those who risk going hungry day by day, with no foreseeable route of escape, Ehrenreich is not really in any danger of starvation. Her basic needs are met and her current situation is only a charade. Her Dream focuses much more heavily on the upper levels of Maslow’s hierarchy: belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (“Need-Hierarchy Theory”). It is, in fact, these needs that have driven her to spend time living as one of America’s working poor. By temporarily giving up her privileged position, Ehrenreich is fulfilling her own Dream of doing meaningful work and being somebody who matters.            

In The Outsiders, the Dream of the lower class is expressed through the narrator. Like Ehrenreich, Ponyboy also shares with the reader his own fantasy: I loved the country. I wanted to be out of towns and away from excitement. I only wanted to lie on my back under a tree and read a book or draw a picture, and not worry about being jumped or carrying a blade … The gang could come out on weekends, and maybe Dallas would see that there was some good in the world after all, and Mom would talk to him and make him grin in spite of himself… She could talk to Dallas and keep him from getting into a lot of trouble. (Hinton 56) Like Colleen and Lori, Ponyboy also desires a certain amount of economic stability and freedom, but his Dream goes much deeper than that; he also wants peace. In his neighborhood, torn apart by social class, the greasers cannot even walk alone without fear of being jumped by the socs, kids from wealthy families who “had so much spare time and money that they jumped [greasers] and each other for kicks, had beer blasts and river-bottom parties because they didn’t know what else to do” (Hinton 51). Ponyboy’s idyllic version of the country represents his Dream for the world: a place where nobody has so little money that they are “hardened beyond caring” (Hinton 67) like Dally or so much money that they have nothing left to work for, like the socs. In his Dream, he is once again cared for by his parents. He is allowed to enjoy his childhood rather than wrestling with adult problems in an adult-less world.               The Dream of the upper class is related by the soc Cherry Valence who confides in Ponyboy, telling him that being rich isn’t all it’s made out to be: ‘We’re sophisticated—cool to the point of not feeling anything. Nothing is for real with us. You know, sometimes I’ll catch myself talking to a girl-friend, and realize I don’t mean half of what I’m saying… Rat race is a perfect name for it,’ she said. ‘We’re always going and going and going, and never asking where. Did you ever hear of having more than you wanted? So that you couldn’t want anything else and then started looking for something else to want? It seems like we’re always searching for something to satisfy us, and never finding it. Maybe if we could lose our cool we could.’ (Hinton 46) Cherry’s Dream, ironically, is to have a Dream—something to strive for. Like Ponyboy, she lives in a world consumed by money, only, rather than having too little, she has too much. The class culture she grew up in demands she meet social expectations, never letting her true self shine through. In talking to Ponyboy, she is able to make a genuine connection with another human being because she does not have to worry about keeping up appearances or fitting into cultural stereotypes.

Just as Ehrenreich was able to fulfill her Dream of bettering the world and doing something meaningful by entering into the world of the working class poor, Cherry also found her Dream fulfilled when she stepped outside of her own social class and befriended a greaser. For both Hinton and Ehrenreich, the only way to restore equal opportunity to America and allow each individual the possibility of living the American Dream is through mutual friendship and respect between social classes.

Works Cited Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation. New York: Oxford, 2003. Print. Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt, 2002. Print.

Hayes, Charles, D. Beyond the American Dream: Lifelong Learning and the Search for Meaning in a Postmodern World. Wasilla, AK: Autodidactic Press, 1998. Print.  

Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. New York: The Viking Press, 1967. Print.

Inderbitzin, Michelle. “Outsiders and Justice Consciousness.” Contemporary Justice Review. 6.4 (2003): 357-352. Web. 29 Dec. 2011.   

“Need-Hierarchy Theory.”  A Dictionary of Psychology. Oxford Reference Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2012.

Drugs and Other Intrusions: Ehrenreich’s Conundrum on Usage and Testing

Barbara Ehrenreich attempts to forgo her upper-middle class life in order to prove her argument for a higher minimum wage as she lives her life Nickel and Dimed. As she moves from Florida, to Maine, to Minnesota, Ehrenreich attempts to live her life as a minimum wage worker, including the lifestyle, subordination, and apparently the supposed drug habit of this lower class. Ehrenreich fails to give up her higher social status as she interacts with drugs and drug testing in a very hesitant and ashamed way, even avoiding the testing all together, which she does successfully only because of the privilege of her true background. However, her argument against drug testing stands out from this general failure regarding her personal stigma of drug usage and her call for the end of drug testing ultimately distinguishes itself from her personal experience. Though her personal experiences involving drugs reveal Ehrenreich incapable of shedding her upper class background, her argument regarding the illegality of drug testing breaks through her failure as she strongly calls those affected by the intrusion, the lower class, to action through empathy.

In Florida, Ehrenreich begins her discussion of drugs by immediately empowering the literal drug and stereotyping the poor that use them. Ehrenreich initiates her argument by calling out the enumerated “sloth, theft, and drug abuse” (18). By placing drug use/abuse alongside those deadly sins, she sets them equal to each other, forcing the low-wage addict to compare himself to the serial burglar. Expanding on this proclamation of the evils of drugs, Ehrenreich reveals her own personal bias as she “[blushes] as hard as if [she] had been caught toking up” (19). Her use of the subjunctive demonstrates how distant she sees herself from this problem of drugs, it is not real to her, only some distant possibility. She demonstrates her own very personal fear of the stigma which surrounds drug usage. Ironically, she invalidates the argument she is trying to make because she is unable to let go of the stereotypes she is calling all other upper and middle class people to end. Further stereotyping and confusing of the “drug culprit” pushes any drug user farther and farther into the rhetoric of criminalization. By naming a human being, someone with a possibly dangerous addiction, with a simple noun and adjective, both of which carry a negative tone, Ehrenreich simplifies this complex human. That human is a criminal. And that human is a criminal because of drugs. While in Florida Ehrenreich unfortunately begins to reveal her personal bias and her apparent inability to follow the solution which she presents to everyone else.

Ehrenreich sets the employees against the corporations while arguing for the end of intrusive drug tests; however, she ironically is incapable of understanding the employees truly because of her inescapable bias. Through the manipulation of employer requirements, Ehrenreich successfully vilifies corporations as entities that smugly proclaim: “You will have no secrets from us” (37). Not only does this paint the companies very poorly, the antithetical “you” versus “us” sets the employer and employed directly opposite each other. She implicitly ridicules the act of drug tests as she proclaims large corporations message of ”We don’t just want your muscles and that portion of your brain that is directly connected to them, we want your innermost self”, and of course, we want your urine (37). However, Ehrenreich never has to face these companies in such a disadvantaged way as truly lower class workers do. She always has the privilege of leaving a job. She never faces the pressure of having “something to prove” when her job and life are on the line like the poor working class, the only thing she has to prove is the inequity in the practices of the companies (83). Ehrenreich attempts to play the role of “the person who has precious labor to sell”, however, she fails to realize that her use of the infinitive verb cuts her out of that role; she has no precious and infinite labor “to sell” (84). Ehrenreich only has her very measured labor of her assumed identity. She assumes that because “the person” who can possesses this precious labor, the unspecified antecedent allows for her to assume this role as well. However, she has already proved through her refusal to go through the drug-testing process in the same way as the poor, she cannot truly fit the role of “the person”. Ehrenreich employs sarcastic tone to comment on “what you get when you weed out all the rebels with drug tests and personality ‘surveys’” (98). Implicitly stating that the “rebels” are those few who are unwilling to subject themselves to an improper and unprofessional intrusion into their personal lives and even their literal bodies. She allows for her tone to suggest the absurdity of the request for urine. Ehrenreich fails to completely assume her poor identity yet she successfully incites the motion of her argument.

As an outsider, Ehrenreich continues her successful argument against drug testing. Even though she unmindfully fails to assume her role as a low-wage worker completely, she successfully recognizes the dehumanization and objectification that drug testing implies as she claims she can prove herself adept “in plumbing at $8.50” but only as long as she passes a drug test (72). Her skill and literal monetary value apparently reveal themselves through her ability to subject herself to an invasion of privacy. Ehrenreich eventually begins to view drugs tests as unnecessarily rude and extreme invasions of privacy. As she describes “apps and the interviews and the drug tests”, polysyndeton reveals how she sees these drugs tests: as judges of a person’s aptitude that in no real way can determine how well they could perform the job (99). She argues that of course a person’s readiness for a job can be found in a conversation or questions, however in no way can a person’s readiness be found in their urine.Yet, she still maintains the stereotypical view of these lower class people, who while even when she lives with them seems surprised that they are not “drug addicts or prostitutes” (89). Ultimately, she cannot place herself into the place of these poor workers because her bias presents itself too often; her argument regarding the use of drug tests however, remains relevant only regards the company and its workers, mostly leaving her out of the equation.

In the evaluation, Ehrenreich finally sums up her argument, the fact that it is unconstitutional and unjust to force any employee to “strip to her/[his] underwear and pee into a cup” (114). Her low diction allows this call to action to be widely appealing, and this low diction provides for the appeal to ethos as every low-wage worker that has ever felt incredible shame and unbearable embarrassment at this requirement. She inspires those who understand this low diction, the employees, to action. This allows her to speak to those who can make a difference. Continuing this final rally cry, she continues her appeal to ethos, relating to these people who have felt “less trust worthy” to themselves, uncomfortable in their own skin (115). Ehrenreich works to ensure that her audience of the lower class feels as if she completely understands their position. Ironically, while her diction and ethos speaks to the class, in her own skin, she feels uncomfortable for other reasons, such as her alienation in this foreign lower class world. Ehrenreich only understands how these poor people feel because she already lives her life as an outsider. Finally, placing a final emphasis on the gravity of this issue with a numerical value, Ehrenreich reminds her audience, an audience already very conscious of cost, that drug tests cost “$100 a pop” (116). Not only does the use of numbers provide a more visceral and expensive example of the negative effects of drug testing, the mix of cost with the continuity of her lower diction provides the ultimate persuasion for these workers.

Ehrenreich literally calls for the end of intrusion while simultaneously intruding on the lives of these lower class workers. As she effectively argues that a company does not have the right to interfere with such personal matters such as what employees do in the bathroom, she fails to realize the irony in the fact that she is interfering with these people’s lives as she purposefully degrades herself to insert herself into their lives. Incapable of fully integrating herself into the working class due to her stigmatization of drugs, her personal narrative in this specific argument serves little purpose but to cloud the lense through which she perceives drug usage in this societal group. Logically, Ehrenreich presents an exceedingly persuasive argument for the end of drug testing. Personally, however, her own interference with the lives of minimum wage workers ultimately asks the same question as a drug test request: What do you do with your life, and how do you do it?

Corporate Christianity and the Crucified Worker: The Harsh Irony of Religion in ‘Nickel and Dimed’

Barbara Ehrenreich’s memoir Nickel and Dimed commemorates her experiences as an “unskilled” worker attempting to live on the low wages of her temporary lower class. As she works various jobs in different geological locations across the United States, she describes her own economic, physical, mental, logistical, and social challenges as well those of her fellow workers. She uses those experiences not only to prove the difficulty of minimum wage living, but to criticize corporate establishments and to advocate simultaneously for the individuality of workers and for their solidarity. In constructing this argument she includes descriptions of several encounters with Christians, specifically referring frequently to Jesus, drawing implicit comparisons between the religion and corporations, mixing capitalistic and religious diction. She makes clear her disdain for what she perceives to be Christian hypocrisy through her sarcasm and ironic religious diction, and successfully attacks romanticization of poverty perpetuated by Christian notions of sacrifice and suffering.

The religious aspect of Ehrenreich’s argument emerges subtly as she establishes the distrust that Christians hold for the working class and the similar distrust held by corporations. She mocks her own “middle-class solipsism” when the “gross improvidence” of many of her coworkers’ housing situations “strikes” her (26). The ambiguity of the word improvidence provides this statement with two distinctly possible and nearly opposite meanings; improvidence as meaning wasteful or thriftlessness implies that the plight of her coworkers is their own fault, an idea she directly refutes when she notes a “host of special costs” prohibitive to the most thrifty decisions for the poor. Alternatively the word must imply a lack of divine direction, and thus Ehrenreich implicitly argues that God does not guide the poor, an argument which can be extended to a metaphor for modern Christians, whom Ehrenreich believes have forsaken the lower class. Of her time waitressing in Florida, she claims that the worst customers are the “Visible Christians”, noting that the “people wearing crosses or ‘WWJD?’ buttons look at [the workers] disapprovingly no matter what [they] do” (36). In making this generalization she characterizes Christians (at least the ones she perceives to be sanctimonious) as universally distrustful of the working class.

With certain Christians’ distrust toward the lower class established, Ehrenreich further critiques modern Christianity and, more generally, religion, by directly comparing it to the corporations in control of the workers. Accompanying these references is nearly always capitalistic diction, conjoining and confounding religiously morality with capitalistic benefits. She notes the Mexican-American man who summarizes “our debt” to Jesus, and describes the “business of modern Christianity” (68-69), turning the religious institution of Christianity into a corporate one, which places monetary gains above the individuals who endow it with the power necessary to its own existence. Similarly, the non-corporeal “theoretical entit[ies], the corporation[s]”, minimize the value of their employees as people and prioritize the company’s profit above the well-being of the individuals (17). In the Wal-Mart associate orientation meeting the employees are discourages from committing “time theft”, and the “indignities imposed on so many low-wage workers” create a debilitating sense of shame which perpetuates the cycle of cheap labor (115). The parallels Ehrenreich draws between religious and corporate institutions with regards to attitudes toward and treatment of the poor working class provide a strong basis for her eventual Marxist rally cry of the workers despite her merely temporary membership in their class.

If Christianity in its righteousness is comparable to the corporations that Ehrenreich claims oppress their workers, then her comparison paints herself and, more broadly, the entire, suffering working class, as Jesus Christ. She describes two distinct versions of Jesus which she believes exist: the live Christ, “the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist”, and “the crucified Christ” (68). This dichotomy of Christ presents a metaphor for both the individual workers and for the working class as perceived by corporations and, as Ehrenreich argues, by a certain sect of Christianity. Each worker, like the living Christ, is an individual who “is never mentioned, nor [is] anything he ever has to say” (68); rather, the crucified Christ is the only worshipped symbol, and his crucifixion is the very source of “our debt” to him (68). It is “the business of modern Christianity to crucify him again and again” just as she claims it is the business of corporations to metaphorically crucify the workers — to subject them to physically demanding labor with little pay and long hours. Similarly, modern Christianity’s praise of Christ “as a corpse” and the perceived hypocrisy and sanctimony of their righteousness is akin to the corporate rhetoric intended to deceive potential employees into believing the corporation has “Respect for the individual”, when in actuality they are treated as little more than service drones (144).

Ehrenreich’s ultimate purpose in sustaining the Christ motif and the comparisons between modern Christianity and corporate manipulation is ironic; she attempts to tear down the traditionally Christian romantic notions of poverty that have grown in prevalence in the United States. She implies that she herself is an atheist when she sees a church tent revival as “the perfect entertainment for an atheist out on her own,” thus distancing herself from any religious moral implications. With her atheism established, the irony of her words regarding religion becomes clear. Ironically, she claims that she is “not working for a maid service; rather, [she has] joined a mystic order. . . grateful. . . for [the] chance to earn grace through submission and toil” (62). The sarcasm and humor with which she skewers the idea of suffering as a path to some sort of religious —and therefore capitalistic betterment (by way of her previously established intermixed religious and capitalistic diction) is made more effective by the sincerity with the sincerity of the “rich people [who] pay to spend their weekends. . . doing various menial chores” (62). Similarly, she mixes her legitimate evaluation that “Jesus. . . more or less [was] favored by an inscrutable God” for the sole purpose of his suffering with the more sarcastic application that she would consider a mortally wounded coworker to be similarly favored. Ultimately, she effectively takes advantage of her established Christ motif and employs it as a way to reveal the hypocrisies of both Christianity and corporate America by mixing sarcasm with the legitimate Christian and corporate notions. In placing the two in such close proximity, she forces the examination of both, highlighting her perceived unfairness of the status quo.

Ehrenreich’s ubiquitous Christ motif interacts almost in perfect coordination with her illustrations of the individual worker versus the large, nebulous corporations. She successfully uses her own experiences to illustrate the similarities between Christianity and corporations. When her discussions move to topics related to religion specifically, her typically biting, though lighter sarcastic humor takes on a more vitriolic edge. This proves to be an effective tool in achieving her desired critique of both religious and corporate hypocrisy simultaneously. However, her bias reveals itself through occasional blanket generalizations, which do not account for varying Christian opinions, as she relies on primarily a single experience for the basis of her religious argument. Nonetheless, she provides a compelling argument exposing a hypocritical coincidence of corporate and religious America.

The Transparency of Bias: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Privileged, Compassionate Perspective

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s investigative memoir Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Ehrenreich herself attempts to investigate whether minimum wage is truly a livable wage by taking up low-paying work in three different locations across America. Her answer, unsurprisingly, is no. Satirizing the often-corrupt employers she works under and developing humility through self-deprecation, Ehrenreich recounts her experiences with a sense of levity, largely free from a romanticized or pitiful portrayal of the poor. She does not, however, allow humor to overshadow the awfulness of poverty, honestly recounting her sense of fear, misery, and futility. This works to create a nuanced and human portrayal of the poor, which gives gravity to her argument for socioeconomic reform. Ehrenreich compounds this by echoing Marxist language and liberal sentiment throughout, rallying liberal support for change while also drawing connections between real poor experience and political agenda. By making her bias clear from the beginning and using Marxist language to build her narrative into an argument, Ehrenreich narrows her audience to those who already support a raise in the minimum wage as a policy. This allows Ehrenreich’s narrative to stand as the main component of her argument, adding urgency to her agenda by humanizing the poor and revealing the harsh economic realities of poverty.

Ehrenreich enters her project and begins her novel with a clear bias: that a minimum wage is not a livable wage. This preconceived thesis narrows her audience to the liberal upper class, allowing her to specify her style of argumentation such that it is more effective. While Ehrenreich approaches her project with some scientific curiosity, she does so with a tone of clear skepticism, asking, “How can anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled?”(1). Furthermore, though she attempts to moderate the disbelief by acknowledging the possibility of some “hidden economies” of the poor, she also describes “the hopelessness of being a wage slave” before even beginning her project (5). She also acknowledges her predilection for “Marxist rants,” likely alienating conservative readers, but garnering support from educated liberals (9). By doing this, Ehrenreich clarifies her own liberal position, without clearly addressing the more-conservative counterarguments, narrowing her intended audience to liberals. Speaking to an audience who already supports her agenda, Ehrenreich’s objective then becomes adding a sense of humanity to her political cause, which she accomplishes by using metonymy, synecdoche, and body metaphors to demonstrate how poverty degrades her upper-middle class selfhood. The first thing Ehrenreich describes of her jump into the “parallel universe” of poverty is the reduction of the self; as a waitress, she is not Barbara the person, but, instead, “baby,’ ‘honey,’ ‘blondie,’ or, most commonly, ‘girl’” (13). This exemplification of both metonymy and synecdoche shows how service work reduces people to parts and, while this is actually dehumanizing, the fact that it is happening to Ehrenreich (whose humanity, as a member of the upper class, seems implicit) forces her liberal upper class readers to identify their own humanity with that of the poor. By acknowledging these stereotypes while also narrating her own human experience as a poor person, Ehrenreich forces her audience to unite the liberal idea of the “noble poor” with the real wage workers who are treated as mere fragments. This gives a face to the socioeconomic crisis Ehrenreich describes, adding urgency to the need for reform.

To capitalize upon this human urgency derived from her narrative, Ehrenreich imbues her economic discussion with a Marxist pathos to rally a sense of rebellious support from liberal reformists, while also using second person to maintain relatability. In one of her most quoted revelations — “There are no secret economics that nourish the poor” — Ehrenreich breaks down her point using second-person exemplification by saying, “If you can’t put up the two months’ rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week. If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best…You eat fast food” (21). By portraying the futility and inescapable nature the of low-wage economy in an accessible way based on the experiences of real people, Ehrenreich engages pathos in an otherwise logical argument, garnering a marxist-anger anger and drive to stick up for the oppressed-proletariat. Having made effective socioeconomic analysis throughout, Ehrenreich brings her Marxist-rage to the narrative in the last two chapters, arguing to her low-wage working peers the need for a pseudo-revolution.

Near the end of her time in Maine, Ehrenreich breaks her rule against “Marxist rants” and “shaking with anger…blows up” at Ted, telling him “him he can’t keep putting money above his employees’ health” (64) Finally converting her analysis of the situation and desperation for a solution into legitimate action, Ehrenreich encourages a desire to take action within the reader as well, especially because, as members of the upper class, they have a higher capacity to create change. Moving to Minnesota, Ehrenreich’s desire to act as a voice of a movement continues to grow, as she “makes it her mission” to get Walmart “employees unionized” (100). While earlier in the novel, Ehrenreich’s agenda always seems investigative, containing her bias to the reflection, now she becomes active, raging against corrupt corporate practices. This helps to illustrate an important point that often gets lost in the earlier parts of book: it is not enough to understand how the poor get oppressed. You have to do something about it. Ehrenreich reiterates this point at the end of her evaluation when she claims “[the working-poor] go hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently” (120). The upper-middle class who want a raise in the minimum wage are not “philanthropists” bestowing their support on the poor (120). Rather, they owe their support.

Using pathos-driven exemplification and economic analysis, Ehrenreich gives a face to America’s mass of low-wage workers who drive the American economy without ever being named. However, “actually” a highly-educated member of the upper middle class, she also effectively engages this group, using Marxist rhetoric and the humanization of poverty to add urgency to the need for socio-economic reform. While the novel has been heralded for its honesty by some and criticised heavily for its bias by others, it succeeds in its ultimate goal: to get people talking about the issues of the poor at all.