Barbara Ehrenreich

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

Is Ehrenreich's use of crude expressions in "Serving in Florida," such as referring to BJ as "The Bitch," appropriate?

"BJ's nickname is 'The Bitch'."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The crass language used in Nickle and Dimed is appropriate because it helps convey the rough and dehumanizing restaurant environment in which Ehrenreich works as a waitress. Her job at Jerry's dehumanizes the wait staff, the customers and managers. The manager there who is called "the Bitch" tells Ehrenreich not to spend so much time chatting with the customers and advises her not to let them run her around so much. As Ehrenreich suggests, this manager is as much a victim of the system as she is an enabler of it. The manager even apologizes in her own way for her abrasive manner in approaching employees, saying "you get into a mode,  you know, because everything has to move so fast."

In this section of her book, as in the other sections, Ehrenreich describes what capitalism is like for workers and customers at the bottom end of the spectrum. Not only the workers, but the customers too are exploited, seen as not fully human. Ehrenreich characterized the customers as a "major obstacle" and "the enemy" to management, as they interfere with the "smooth transformation of ... food into money."

Ehrenreich's goal is not to offer economic analysis from afar but to convey what it feels like to work at a minimum wage job. Since the experience is exhausting, dehumanizing and brutalizing—and since people do frequently use crude language—Ehrenreich's use of it helps reflect how coarsening this work is.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ehrenreich is portraying the truth of the situations and people she encountered during her time in Florida. She met and worked with and for people who were not nice - not to her, not to other employees, not to customers. Most of her employers did not have the education level Ehrenreich herself has, although she could not make this difference known during her time as one of the servers at the Hearthside or at Jerry's. The differences in background experience and training, however, quickly become some of the factors Ehrenreich identifies as explaining some of the reasons for the difficulties the working poor face in attempting to improve their economic situation.

something new-something loathsome and servile-had infected me, along with the kitchen odors that I could still sniff on my bra when I finally undressed at night. In real life I am moderately brave, but plenty of brave people shed their courage in POW camps, and maybe something similar goes on in the infinitely more congenial milieu of the low-wage American workplace.

The informal diction and occasionally crass language of the people she meets reflects their background life situation and their feelings about it. The language is part of the reality of the situations she wanted to portray in her book and, as a result, is both appropriate and necessary.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial