Homework Help

Describe Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed.Describe Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel...

user profile pic

jersey32 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 13, 2010 at 11:17 AM via web

dislike 0 like
Describe Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed.

Describe Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed.

5 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

cetaylorplfd | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted August 13, 2010 at 1:05 PM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like

In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich shares her experiences trying to make a living as a minimum-wage worker.  Ehrenreich attempts to prove that the standard minimum wage is not a living wage and to make people aware of the hardships that people have to endure living with low wages.  Although well intentioned, Ehrenreich has been criticized for her portrayal of a "minimum-wage lifestyle."  Her goal is to attempt to live for one month in this fashion; however, she does not totally give up her middle class comforts.  For example, she still has her car to get her from place to place, and she has "back-up" cash when jobs fall through.  Certainly one could argue that if Ehrenreich cannot make it for just a month on a minimum wage salary even with her extras, then how could someone living this way for the long haul possibly make ends meet?  Ehrenreich takes for granted the mentality that people have when they live in different economic brackets.  Some things that Ehrenreich sees as appalling are only a passing thought to others who deal with these situations on a regular (often daily) basis.  However, in the end, Ehrenreich does present a noteworthy case for the issue of instituting a living minimum wage.

user profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 13, 2010 at 3:30 PM (Answer #3)

dislike 0 like

Barbara Ehrenreich is a journalist, who underwent the "experiment" described by the first answer.  While the book certainly was insightful, entertaining, even shocking in its portrayal of the working poor in America - many people didn't like it.

The author has been described as a "left-wing liberal," perhaps before but certainly after writing this book.  This in itself isn't a bad thing.  However, the fact that she is writing a non-fiction book - this certainly raises red flags for those who are not on her side.  Many believe she wrote with too much bias toward the plight of those in poverty and against those who aren't doing enough to help.  But like the first post says, even through her "experiment" she herself did not fully take on the difficulties of most Americans making minimum or just above minimum wage.  (In addition to the car and the extra back-up cash, other complaints include that she also was doing this alone - without children/family to feed, she refused to pool resources with roommates, and she had health insurance had a serious emergency occurred, not to mention, she could stop anytime it got too difficult.)

Because of this - her overall attitude throughout the book (to me and others) seemed a little disingenuous.  It was as if she was fighting to be seen and heard because she experienced the life of poverty.  But she didn't.  In her attempt to paint a realistic, straight-forward, and empathetic tone in her study - many think she failed, arguing that she came across as pretentious and a little snobby - but with a mask of humanitarianism and concern.

user profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 13, 2010 at 4:15 PM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

While I agree with the first two editors, that Ehrenreich caused much controversy with her portrayal of minimum-wage America in Nickel and Dimed, I do think that a large part of her personality in the book is one of self-deprecation.  She is able to mock herself in each of the cities she migrates to and readily admits to her limitations, especially when it comes to her physical ones.  Her ironic tone toward herself--I think--makes the book more palpable (especially if one reads it as her personal interpretation more than as a purely factual account of minimum-wage life).

Ehrenreich--at least as she portrays herself in the book--is sympathetic. She admits that she does not know how she would make it if she were in some of her coworkers' plight and acknowledges that the temporary nature of her experiment provides encouragement for her that her coworkers do not have the benefit of feeling.

user profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:37 AM (Answer #6)

dislike 0 like

The character Barbara is fairly interesting to analyze.  The previous posts were quite thorough.  I would only add that part of what makes the work so interesting in that one can see how there is a fundamental difference between author and person when the author becomes a person in the novel.  For example, the author holds very strong political beliefs about the need for an economic reconfiguration in regards the working class.  Yet, the character Barbara is not shown to be a rallying Marxist, or someone who enters the workplace to politically activate the work setting.  Rather, she is shown to be someone struggling under the weight of minimum wage reality.  There is little doubt that Barbara, as a character, feels this tension, as she is forced to confront her own working class background and, in a way, go back to it in different forms in different jobs.  She is a character that struggles to bring to light the practical reality of the theoretical beliefs of her author persona. In an odd way, the experiment of both character and author reflects a fusing of the Marxist idea of praxis, the combination or realm where practice and theory come together.

 

I don't think you can consider Nickel and Dimed a novel.  It is a non-fiction book - and marketed as such.  I disagree that Barbara is a "character."  Unlike a memior, this book makes no pretenses as a "story book."  I found it to be very clearly - an expository (albeit results driven) compilation - on a social/political topic.

user profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 15, 2010 at 12:17 AM (Answer #5)

dislike -1 like

The character Barbara is fairly interesting to analyze.  The previous posts were quite thorough.  I would only add that part of what makes the work so interesting in that one can see how there is a fundamental difference between author and person when the author becomes a person in the novel.  For example, the author holds very strong political beliefs about the need for an economic reconfiguration in regards the working class.  Yet, the character Barbara is not shown to be a rallying Marxist, or someone who enters the workplace to politically activate the work setting.  Rather, she is shown to be someone struggling under the weight of minimum wage reality.  There is little doubt that Barbara, as a character, feels this tension, as she is forced to confront her own working class background and, in a way, go back to it in different forms in different jobs.  She is a character that struggles to bring to light the practical reality of the theoretical beliefs of her author persona. In an odd way, the experiment of both character and author reflects a fusing of the Marxist idea of praxis, the combination or realm where practice and theory come together.

 

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes