What is the issue of poverty in Jennie Gerhardt?

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

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Dreiser's work centers around how money makes people do things that they might not want to do.  The fact that Jennie is placed into positions where money is the critical factor is what convinces her to do what she otherwise would not wish to do.  It might be deliberate on Dreiser's part to make the assumption that human freedom is limited by money and poverty.  When Jennie's father is in dire economic straits, Jennie has to utilize her charms as a woman and be with men for the economic comfort it provides to her family.  When Jennie becomes pregnant from the Senator, she must further take her daughter into account for her actions.  In the end, poverty and its avoidance drives Jennie to act and her freedom is geared by material ends.  While Jennie does have autonomy, it is limited by her condition as a woman and one who is chained to financial constraints that compel her to have to act in a manner that recognizes socio- economic reality as a defining end to her state of being in the world.

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