Douglas West ESQ
26 January 2015
Nickel and Dimed: Chapter 1 Summary & Response
In Barbara Ehrenreich’s
Nickel and Dimed,
Ehrenreich arrogantly narrates an expos é of people in the minimum wage workforce and their living conditions and problems. Ehrenreich first began to immerse herself in the world of minimum wage work by searching the Key West job market for the highest paying job offer. After Ehrenreich rules out several positions because of a general aversion to the job description, she is not called by any of her possible employers.
She believes she is not asked back for an interview because she appeared too intellectual for the positions (IC DC). With no other options, Ehrenreich soon finds a waitressing position at a diner called the Hearthside, which she plans to work at for two weeks. While working shifts from two to ten in the evening, she will only make $2.43 an hour plus tips. Along the way she befriends her coworkers, and begins to feel compelled to perform her job to the best of her ability. After realizing the many health and housing problems of her coworkers, Ehrenreich realizes she will need to acquire a second job (DC,IC).
After a short search, Ehrenreich is hired for another waitressing job at a restaurant named
Jerry’s. Although this job pays more, the working conditions are nearly deplorable, and
Ehrenreich finds herself completely overworked. For this reason Ehrenreich then quits her job at
Hearthside and continues to work at Jerry’s, only working both jobs for one day. While working at Jerry’s, she also decides to move closer to Key West into a small uncomfortable trailer, to save
money in transportation. After a number of problems arise between the managing staff and employees at Jerry’s, Ehrenreich replaces her waitressing career with a housekeeping job at a hotel for $6.10 an hour; Ehrenreich once again only lasts one day at her new position. (IC;IC)
After leaving her job, she decides to leave Key West altogether and hands her trailer off to Gail, a coworker.
Ehrenreich argues that lowwage workers in the United States work long hours and receive little pay, she is thwarted by her own writing technique. Throughout the narrative,
maintains an orotund tone which almost invalidates the argument she attempts to present. Even when looking past her arrogant attitude, the creation of the experiment of itself is inadequate. In regard to Ehrenreich’s tone, one can easily detect a superiority complex when she discusses the people around her. For example, Ehrenreich directly states, “Sometimes I play with the fantasy that I am a princess who, in penance for some tiny transgression, has undertaken to feed each one of her subjects by hand. But the nonprincesses working with me…”
(Ehrenreich 19) When Ehrenreich writes this, she blatantly displays her egoism to her audience.
(DC,IC) While in other places she exhibits her critical mentality lightly: for instance, she writes
“There are the two dirtsmudged lesbians . . .” (Ehrenreich 19). In this quote, one might think
Ehrenreich writes with a judgemental tone to condemn her customers. By describing the customers as dirtsmudged and homosexual, she forms an opinion based on the appearance of pure strangers. Ehrenreich's attitude discredits her initial argument because it proves she does not connect with the lifestyle she is attempting to represent. (IC DC)
In addition to her tone, Ehrenreich’s initial setup of the experiment dooms itself. Within the first paragraph she expresses her aversion to the experiment when she admits “Then I said