By the late nineteenth century the economic lines in America between the upper and lower class were quickly widening because of the boom of urban industrial expansion. Moreover, during the 1800s, America witnessed an influx of immigrants coming from many parts of the world, they made tenement houses in New York’s lower East Side a common destination. One person witnessing the living conditions of these tenements was journalist Jacob A. Riis. For several years, Riis, with camera in hand, tooked a multitude of photographs that depicted the atrocious working and living conditions in the New York slums. Riss reported that the tenements were severely overcrowded, unsanitary, and a breeding ground for crime and disease. Riss also claimed that the “slum” landlords of these tenements exploited immigrants by charging them more rent than they could afford. As a result, every member of the family had to work—even young children. Subsequently, in 1890, Riis wrote a book entitled: How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, which included his horrifying photographs and sketches, as means to expose to the middle class the chaotic environment of tenement living. Although Riss’s book exposes a myriad of social and economic problems regarding tenement housing, one of the more prominent ills his photographs and prose reveal is the harsh and distressing reality that immigrant families from the lower class must treat their children as a form of labor in order to survive. With this in mind, by describing and analyzing three of Riis’s photographs, I will demonstrate the validity of my argument which portrays the exploitation of child labor.
Most immigrant children from the tenements...
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... lived in New York tenements. In Riis’s book, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, he uses prolific prose coupled with emotionally powerful illustrations that paint a vivid picture of immigrant families living in tenements in the late 1800s. Throughout Riss’s book, exposes how immigrant children were forced to work in factories and sweatshops. As a result, Riss successfully achieves his goal of educating the middle class regarding the challenges that urban immigrants faced. Lastly, although Riss tact regarding racial epithets of the immigrants he wrote on and photographed are offensive, the importance of Riss’s photographs outweighs the racial insults because his pictures lie not only in their power to enlighten but also to move his readers regarding how immigrant families were forced into making their children work.
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