Jacob Riis How The Other Half Lives Summary

Words: 935
Pages: 4

Jacob Riis, an immigrant from Denmark, became the epitome of the American dream by rising to prominence through his work in journalism and social reform. His work helped to influence great strides in improving the issues resulting from industrialization and urbanization throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. This time period eventually became known as the Progressive Era due to the social reforms brought about by muckrakers like and inspired by Riis.
At 21 years old, Jacob Riis stepped foot in New York in 1870 with only the clothes he wore and a measly $40. For the first few years after immigrating, Riis had trouble finding employment and ended up working a couple of odd jobs here and there, such as an iron worker, bricklayer, and
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This twenty-five chapter long book takes his audience on an emotional tour of New York City’s slums. From the lifestyle lived by immigrants, the history and current situation of tenement housing, as well as solutions he believed may help solve such housing issues, Riis provides an informative and compelling account of a major social injustice he wished to bring light upon and improve. Emotionally charged language, along with vivid descriptions, disturbing facts, and revealing photographs greatly appealed to his readers’ pathos. For example, one of Riis’s most famous photographs from How the Other Half Lives, entitled “Five Cents a Spot” depicts a dimly lit room much too small to house the numerous men and women lodging inside. Riis’s description of the shelters included how “a kerosene lamp burned dimly in the fearful atmosphere, probably to guide other and later arrivals to their ‘beds,’ for it was only just past midnight. A baby’s fretful wail came from an adjoining hall-room, where, in the semi-darkness, three recumbent figures could be made out. The ‘apartment’ was one of three in two adjoining buildings we had found, within half an hour, similarly crowded.” While Riis’s narratives and depictions already provide compelling evidence by themselves, the addition of photographs that candidly captured his descriptions provided striking indisputable proof, further swaying his audience. …show more content…
Published in 1890, the book became an instant success and served as a launching point for Riis’s influence as a reformer. The book revealed to the “other half” of society, those not living in poverty, a snapshot of the lives of the less fortunate, something that normally was ignored. Outrage and shock ensued as a result of his book’s gripping and compelling revelations, inspiring government actions to solve the housing problems uncovered in How the Other Half Lives. Some of the worst tenement houses shut down, regulations became more strongly enforced, and an overall awareness of housing issues nationwide was born out of his book. Riis’s impact extended farther than just housing reform. Inspired by his work, An entire generation of muckrakers took after Riis in attempting to reveal the social injustices of their day. Riis was a pioneer in the field of journalism. Using photographs and flash photography as a tool to highlight the issues hindering society was a new concept. Riis’s employment of photography helped to popularize photojournalism in America and integrate it into the mainstream media.
Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives is a testament to his commitment to improving society's ills. The book, along with the images included, not only inspired and continues to inspire social reformers, but also laid a foundation for photojournalism. The far reaching effects and