Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich
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In Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, what does the quote "The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe" mean?

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This quote is actually by essayist H.L. Mencken. In the context of Nickel and Dimed, it means the majority of Americans are working hard just to put food on the table and find a safe place to live. One of the aspects of surviving on the minimum wage that Ehrenreich documents is that it's difficult to find a safe place to live. For example, when the author is working at Wal-mart and living at Clearview, a cheap motel, her room, which lacks a bolt and air conditioning, is destroyed by sewage. She has no kitchen, so she stores her edibles in a plastic bag and hopes the cheese she does not refrigerate is safe to eat. There is disconnection among the people living at this apartment complex, as they do not know each other, and people work long hours so they are often not home. Therefore, one of the luxuries of having money is the ability to live in a safe place with a sense of connection to other people. The dream of many Americans who are poor is to find this type of safe space, but their resources make this dream difficult.

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