Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 342

In the process of negotiating a separation from her abusive boyfriend—which involved a fight over custody of their daughter—Stephanie Land became homeless. After searching futilely for work that would pay a living wage, she used up her meager savings. After staying in a shelter, she and her young daughter moved into a transitional housing apartment. Land, who had informally worked cleaning houses for friends, began to work almost full-time as a maid.

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One of the main themes that Land explores in her memoir is the absence of a financial safety net in the United States for low-income families. The social services that are available to a single mother with a small child did not cover their needs long enough for Stephanie to establish stable financial independence. The corollary is an illustration of the complicated array of agencies with which a person must work in order to receive any benefits that are available from government, state, or municipal programs: in Washington state, where Land lived, there were seven, not including the Pell Grants she received for higher education.

Another key theme is the intractability of poverty. Through her experiences in the shelter, looking for work, and doing a variety of low-wage jobs, Land met countless other people—especially young mothers—who had unsuccessfully struggled for years to get above the poverty threshold.

Closely related to this theme is precarity: for low-waged workers, just one emergency can spell disaster and set a person back months or even years. Medical situations, for parent or child, were the most frequent drains on resources.

For many readers of the memoir, what were revelations to Land would not be surprises. For the working poor, the theme of class prejudice that she experiences would be all too familiar. The experience of facing bias (such as when she buys groceries with food stamps) differs greatly from the intellectual understanding she thought she possessed.

However, Land—who is white—does not fully connect classism to racism or explore the reasons for the disproportionately high ratio of impoverished black Americans.

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