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

by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Analyze the diction of the "Serving in Florida" chapter in Nickel and Dimed.

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Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is a 2001 book on the state of the working poor in America, and their ability to "(not) get by." Ehrenreich pretended to be a poor person to see if she could subsist on a working wage; she decided that it was all but impossible.

"Serving in Florida" is the first section of the book, where Ehrenreich draws on her experience as a waitress to work for a diner. Throughout the chapter, Ehrenreich is subtly contemptuous of the people around her, even as she strives to empathize with their plight:

...it is a shock to realize that "trailer trash" has become, for me, a demographic category to aspire to... [I choose] a cabin, more or less, set in the swampy backyard of the converted mobile home where my landlord, an affable TV repairman, lives with his bartender girlfriend. Anthropologically speaking, the trailer park would be preferable...
(Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed, Google Books)

Ehrenreich tries hard to become the character of a working poor person, but cannot get past her real identity:

At least Gail puts to rest any fears I had of appearing overqualified... in my writing life, I at least have some notion of procedure... as a server, though, I am beset by requests as if by bees.
(Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed, Google Books)

She is ever-conscious that she is playing a part, and the reader gets the idea that even as she ran between tables she wasn't ever truly engaged. Every line is broken up with introspection of Eherenreich's real life and her comfortable standard of living; with constant reminders that she is pretending, immersion in the story and the real-life plight of the working poor is difficult.

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In Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, analyze the diction of the chapter "Serving in Florida."

Ehrenreich's purpose in writing Nickel and Dimed was to convey her experiences as an educated, solidly middle-class woman attempting to survive on an equal basis with those who did not have the advantages of education or savings to supplement their minimum-wage earnings. She tells the story of her adventures and misadventures in a very straightforward manner, but does inject her personal reactions as reflections to her experiences.

to my chagrin, no one from the approximately twenty places at which I've applied calls me for an interview. I had been vain enough to worry about coming across as too educated for the jobs sI sought, but no one even seems interested in finding out how overqualified I am.

Her sense of humor surfaces as a coping mechanism when describing how she endures some of the more demeaning or frustrating aspects of her research and the lifestyle she is forced to adopt for herself to carry out her study.

Number 46 is about eight feet in width and shaped like a barbell inside, with a narrow region-because of the sink and the stove-separating the bedroom from what might optimistically be called the 'living' area...my knees rub against the shower stall when I sit on the toilet, and you can't just leap out of the bed, you have to climb down to the foot of it in order to find a patch of floor space to stand on.

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