Summarize the second chapter of Poor People

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In the second chapter of William T. Vollmann's Poor People, the author explores his perspective on the people he meets and explains why, to him, they are poor, even when they perhaps do not think of themselves that way. Let's explore how he does this "reverse engineering," taking the situation apart and examining its construction.

Vollmann begins with a tuna fisherman in Yemen, asking him how much he needs to live on, where he sleeps, and so on. The man is happy. He relies on God for his life. The author then explores the reasons why people think they are rich when, to others, they seem to be extremely poor. He discusses how people can be satisfied and content in situations that seem horrible.

As the chapter progresses, Vollmann presents reports that show how the majority of people in the world live in poverty. He also looks at the various definitions of vagabonds and rogues and how those relate to poverty. He thinks about how he can quantify concepts like "normal" and "need" and "rock bottom." None of the definitions of "poverty" that experts put forth really describe the situation of all the people who are poor.

Vollmann then goes on to talk about how for him, "poverty is not mere deprivation ... poverty is wretchedness." It is, he says, more of an experience than an economic situation, and therefore, it is not completely measurable.

In the next section of the chapter, the author introduces Nina Leonigovna Sokolova, who claims that life has never been "normal," yet the author argues that sometimes even the worst situations are "normal" for people who know nothing different and get along the best they can. He explores this concept by looking at a hypothetical Hmong village where everyone's life is pretty much the same, and he looks at the concepts of "rich" and "poor" through their eyes. He also uses an example from Hanoi to explore the concept of "normal."

As the chapter winds to a close, the author speaks of an elderly Colombian man and a Mexicali street prostitute and discusses their ideas about wealth and poverty and what it takes to "get by." Many people, he notes, claim that giving too much help to the poor actually makes them more likely to fail. There are many different perspectives about the relationships between the poor and the rich, though, and the author presents several of them through the eyes of various people.

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