Analysis Of How The Other Half Lives

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The novel How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis shocked middle and upper class Americans when it was published in 1890. Riis created a sensation when he revealed to the world, combining detailed written descriptions with graphic photographs, the horrific conditions of New York City’s tenement housing. How the Other Half Lives raised many questions, such as how and why the poor are subjected to such terrible living conditions and how that environment affects them. Riis also reveals his fears and prejudices toward certain ethnic groups as he investigates each tenement in order to find some kind of solution. The miserable surroundings Riis discusses throughout the length of his entire document focus on the tenement. The tenement is a building,…show more content…
The tenement was the biggest hindrance to achieving the American myth of rags to riches. It becomes impossible for one to rise up in the social structure when it can be considered a miracle to live passed the age of five. Children under the age of five living in tenements had a death rate of 139.83 compared to the city’s overall death rate of 26.67. Even if one did live past the age of five it was highly probable he’d become a criminal, since virtually all of them originate from the tenements. They are forced to steal and murder, they’ll do anything to survive, Riis appropriately calls it the “survival of the unfittest”. (Pg.…show more content…
The “new” immigrants came over hungry for work and were willing to work for a fraction of what the “old” immigrants would. The “new” immigrants came in unskilled and unaccustomed to American society, took the “old” immigrants jobs and shook up their neighborhoods; this created much tension between the two groups. Riis like others, hated some ethnic groups more than others, and in How the Other Half Lives establishes a general hierarchy placing the “old” immigrants on the top, groups such as Germans, Irish and the English. In the middle Riis ranks the Italians, Jews, and blacks. On the bottom of the ladder Riis places the Chinese. Riis describes the Italians as: “Slow, stubborn, and content to live in a pig – sty. The man is so ignorant that, as one of the sharpers who pray on him once said ‘it would be sinful not to take him in.’”(Pg. 92) Riis then gives his thoughts on the Jewish population, saying: “Thrift is the watchword of Jewtown. It is at once their strength and fatal weakness… Money is their God.”(Pg.
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