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PART I. FRAMING THE POOR: THE IRRESISTIBILITY OF HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES
The Flash: Jacob Riis Discovers Light The American Scene: The Search for Order How the Other Half Looks: Interpreting Riis's View of Poverty
PART II. THE DOCUMENT
How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York
A Riis Chronolgy (1849-1914)
Questions for Consideration
Posted October 1, 2006
How the Other Half Lives was written over a century ago as an expose¿ of the appalling living conditions in the tenements of New York City. The author speaks with a crusader¿s zeal and with so much detail that the reader can visualize these tenements, these streets, and these people as if they were living today. This is a grim and moving portrayal of the lives of the men, the women and the children that inhabit these loathsome neighborhoods of New York City in the late 1800s. He so graphically describes the filth, the sunless and airless rooms, the crowding, and the starvation that these places palpably exist for the reader and bring a chill to any heart. Riis has a genuine concern for the tenement situation and understands these people¿s plight. His pictures are touching and meant to vividly show their misery. He, for the most part, blames the money-hungry landlords for these crowded conditions: ¿How shall the love of God be understood by those who have been nurtured in sight only of the greed of man.¿ (p. 266). He laments that the tenement is three quarters responsible for the misery of the poor. Then, after his extensive discourse, he offers three concrete cures for these dreadful conditions, something that many authors forget when they are enlightening readers. Riis states his purpose for writing this book himself on page 297 when he says, ¿If this book shall have borne ever so feeble a hand in garnering a harvest of justice, it has served its purpose.¿ The author apparently succeeded with his purpose, because in the flyleaf of this book the publisher tells us: ¿This book helped bring about new revisions in the housing codes of the major U. S. cities.¿ How does this book relate to adult education? By moving chronologically from the founding of America to the slums of NYC in the 1800s, are we to understand that education took a back seat to the accumulation of money during those hundred years? Certainly Riis posits that education is one of the solutions to this problem while at the same time implying that wealth accumulation and the lack of education has been the cause of this problem. ¿Thus the whole matter resolves itself once more into a question of education, all the more urgent because these people are poor, miserably poor almost to a man.¿ (p. 147). He does not forget that this ¿education¿ is not only for the poor people, but also for the wealthy landlords. ¿Clearly, it is a matter of education on the part of the landlord no less than the tenant.¿ (p. 270). Riis¿ almost missionary language exhorts us to never allow greed to override a compassion for humanity. ¿It is a fight in which eternal vigilance is truly the price of liberty and the preservation of society.¿ (p. 233). The relation of this book to the other units of study in this course could be explained as an example of how low mankind can descend if education is not considered one of the major cornerstones of a society. Although this book was exhaustive in its detail, it was easy to read while at the same time enlightening. I found myself enjoying the ranting tone and the fascinating lists of neighborhoods and the labels that Riis used for the different races. In a sense it reads like a Ginsberg poem constantly hitting the reader with melodious lists of places and people from another era. Read these geographic names out loud and feel their rhythm: Jewtown, Bandit¿s Roost, Double Alley, The Bowery, The Bloody Sixth Ward, The Fourth, Fifth and Tenth Wards, Blindman¿s Alley, The Bend, The Battery, Little Italy, The French Quarter, Hell¿s Kitchen, The West Side, Bottle Alley, Frog Hollow, Poverty Gap, Murderer¿s Alley, Gotham Court, The Old Brewery, Old Africa, Potter¿s Field, Blackwell¿s Island Asylum, Rogues¿ Gallery, Penitentiary Row, Chinatown. The list goes on. To someone reared in rural America, this chant sounds like a song about another country. Riis also has something to say about all the races of people that live in the tenements of New York
7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 8, 2009
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The information is shocking, but the textbook format lacks excitement and makes reading very slow. The pictures are a huge bonus. If you have any interest in the lives of New York's poorest immigrants at the turn of the century, this book is a complete exploration of their existence.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 22, 2010
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