How the Other Half Lives

by Jacob Riis
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What did the father of the dying child mean by his statement “need we complain , such as we?”

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"How The Other Half Lives," first published in 1890, describes the living conditions in the slums of New York City. In chapter 4, Riis describes a tenement building and the people who live inside. He describes hearing a "short, hacking cough" and a "tiny, helpless wail," and we learn that...

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"How The Other Half Lives," first published in 1890, describes the living conditions in the slums of New York City. In chapter 4, Riis describes a tenement building and the people who live inside. He describes hearing a "short, hacking cough" and a "tiny, helpless wail," and we learn that these both belong to a child who is "dying with measles."

The author reveals that the child died and indicates that it died because of the squalid living conditions inside the tenement. The mother, Mary, grieves for her baby's death, but the father says, "Hush, Mary! If we cannot keep the baby, need we complain—such as we?"

When the father says, "such as we," he is referring to his family's status as impoverished slum-dwellers. He has clearly accepted that people like him, his wife, and their child are considered disposable and insignificant by wider society. He has accepted that, in the view of wider society, people like them effectively have no rights, including the right to complain.

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