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Critical Review of Nickel and Dimed: on (Not) Getting by in America

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 07:01 AM
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Critical Review of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America

Nickel and Dimed is Barbara Ehrenreich’s novel about her experiences as a low-wage worker.   She spent a couple of weeks in three different US cities on three separate occasions.   Ehrenreich sought to shed light on the crisis of the working poor. Starting with a little money and a car, she supplanted herself to another city and found jobs and housing from scratch.

In Florida Ehrenreich worked as a housekeeping attendant and a waitress.   She lived in an “efficiency” apartment thirty miles away from her jobs in Key West.   Ehrenreich was a house cleaner and nursing-home aide in Maine.   She stayed in a Motel 6 for a week until she could get a room at a residential hotel, the Blue Haven.   In Minnesota she worked as an associate at Wal-Mart and lived in a regular hotel.   This was her shortest stay as she ran out of money in about two weeks.   Ehrenreich struggled with health, working conditions and management.   She also had trouble finding affordable and acceptable housing.

Ehrenreich did not approach Nickel and Dimed in an experimental or journalistic standpoint.   She makes it clear that her adventures are a story and not a social experiment.   Ehrenreich did not have a thesis but wrote from a liberal standpoint.   Though she tried to get the best jobs she could, Ehrenreich limited her opportunities by constructing a fictionalized character of herself as a low-skilled employee with no experience.   This fit with her character of a divorced mother who returned to the workforce after being on welfare.   She tested the conservative view that any job would lead to upward mobility.   Ehrenreich also challenged the work-fare notion that people coming off welfare are prepared to join the workforce.

The novel was written for a general audience.   It appealed generally to socially conscious people and was reviewed by several liberal magazines.   The book sold enough copies to...


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