Riis’s View on the Other Side
As a Danish immigrant like Jacob A. Riis who arrived in New York City from Denmark in 1870 at a young age, it must be known that he traveled only with $40 to the states, and loved the new land. His main interests upon arrival was to settle down, find a job, and live the American dream. Riis quickly picked up a pen and initiated his career in journalism as well as gave rise to many questions about the struggles of humanity in slum regions of New York. Riis gives a very brave and noble attempt to drive a nail through the reader’s heart as he gives detailed walkthroughs of the horrid living conditions with random insights that can be seen as taking form of racism and bigotry. On the other hand Riis really hits a home run on categorizing the situation the other half is in by giving a stern description of their ethnical background, cultural norms, and condescending living conditions.
As Jacob neared the end of his carpentry job he soon found himself tied down by the chains of unemployment. So from his standpoint I feel like he is suited to compose a well-rounded argument as to why we need to wake up the middle and upper classes. He proves his knowledge for the tenements over and over again with accurate facts and discrete evidence with pictures. Many know this author as an amateur newcomer, and In How the Other Half Lives, Riis deliberately writes as that. He writes to manipulate and annoy the reader only to ignite them in curiosity. He is an entertainer who presented controversial ideas that have been wailing themselves about throughout the end of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. He could have been less harsh on how he used stereotypical terms and categorized the inhabitants of the tenements but to do so would be the unintelligent thing to do at the time. Let’s be real here slavery has just came to a slowing halt and what better way to draw in controversy and spark dramatic response then to expose the typical racist side that the middle-aged white male is attracted to? In my opinion this book is an attention seeking maniac and begs for readers to be surprised by every page turned only for the fact of waking up middle and upper class Americans to the poverty issue.
Riis infers a great deal of information about ethnic diversity amongst the slums. In the beginning of chapter three, The Mixed Crowd, Riis states, “In their place has come this queer conglomerate mass of heterogeneous elements, ever striving and working like whiskey and water in one glass, and with the like result: final union and a prevailing taint of whiskey”(74). It seems almost shocking at how the population is devised but unified also. Even though there are many different ethnic groups, they all work within their own culture for the most part. Every ethnicity specifies in what their skills excel at, and most importantly help each other when all possible. I believe that the individuals living in the tenements would have not made it this long if they did not work together to achieve survival ultimately. Bartering is a major value the other half must adopt and the Polish Jews do it the best. The fatal weakness of the Jews was thrift, Riis asserted that, “Money is their God” (134). The Jews were exhausting themselves from working day and night just to salvage a little coin. The author ironically proposed that, “Gold has enslaved them in bondage worse than that from which they fled” (134). Once again Riis strikes with theatrical comments towards the Jews in his crude sense of humor. On the contrary, despite the author’s abrupt stereotypes and racial remarks his main intention was to expose the nasty substructure that New York aimlessly was unaware of.
The Danish photographer identifies the Chinamen and their lack of religious adoption. The author shows much criticism of the Chinatown inhabitants, exclaiming they lacked faith in areas that would grant them unselfishness and rid their chains of senseless idolatry. Although the