How The Other Half Lives By Jacob Riis Essay

How The Other Half Lives By Jacob Riis Essay

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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, which due to the immigration boom was modified by its landlord to create as many rooms as possible, therefore sacrificing the human necessities of air and light. Riis says,
“Large rooms were partitioned into several smaller ones, without regard to light or ventilation.”(Pg. 69)
These rooms were too small to house one family and too dark and stagnant too live in, yet it was common to have as many as three or four families in one “apartment”! Tenements are the pit of filth, hot, dank and disease ridden. It was very common for a whole building to be wiped out by a disease such as cholera. The tenants were so cramped that many babies died of “foul air”, the cause of which was no ventilation. Deaths due to the poor condition of the tenement houses were so great the first year tenements were instituted that the death rate in the city nearly doubled. Yet the tenement population kept growing and growing, until one third of New York City’s population lived in the tenements. Population was so concentra...


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...tenements were Hell, and through lucid descriptions and shocking photographs, Riis exposed the plight of the poor living in New York City’s tenements to the world. I found this book to be well written and his description usage superb.
In a few reviews posted on Amazon.com the general synopsis presented by all of the reviewers was similar to my feelings, except that they failed to see how his somewhat biased opinion affected his writings. They all agreed that his writings were very compelling, but the real key to this book was the horrific pictures he displayed. An anonymous read from Furman University of South Carolina is quoted saying:
“While the text in itself is quite interesting, the photos are perhaps the most gripping aspect of the book.”
Also they all felt a strong sense of sympathy for the poor lower class living in those
God-awful tenements posing as homes.

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How The Other Half Lives By Jacob Riis Essay

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