large three-storied house flanked by two smaller houses with clouds in the background

Twenty Years at Hull-House

by Jane Addams

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Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction Twenty Years at Hull-House Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

While Twenty Years at Hull-House is an autobiography in the strict sense of the word, it is much more an account of a place than it is of a life. Addams mentions her own life only as it pertains to her work. The early part of her life is covered only to the point that it influenced her later work at Hull-House. The reader is never quite sure of the illness from which Addams suffered throughout her life. Other than her father and the long-lasting influence he had on his daughter, relatives are scarcely mentioned. Addams puts her personal life aside as Hull-House takes precedence.

Although the book was written for an adult audience and presents certain difficulties because of the writing style of its day, it is nevertheless a worthwhile book for young people to read. Many of the people who drift through the pages of the book, almost always nameless, are real. The horrible conditions of life in the slums and the dreary, hardworking lives of the young people become very tangible for a young reader of today.

Addams spends much of the book relating the stories of real people to emphasize her points. When she writes of the need for child labor laws, she cites example after example of children forced to work long hours in wretched conditions for pitiful wages. Addams’ opinions of the men and women she describes are clearly evident. Most of the men in the book are portrayed as abusive and selfish, while the women are hardworking, long-suffering martyrs. Addams seems to feel that the women owe their misery to the men in their lives, from their husbands or fathers to the bosses in the factories. She cites numerous examples of good women forced to endure hardships because of drunken husbands who refuse to work and support their families. The exploitation of women is an unrelenting theme throughout the book.

Addams has considerable sympathy for the children of poverty. They are portrayed as innocent victims with wasted childhoods and little opportunity to improve their futures. The children of immigrant parents are given even more empathy, for their parents do not speak the language and do not understand the customs or laws of the United States. Again, men are shown in a highly unflattering light.

Twenty Years at Hull-House has enjoyed many years of success and has frequently been taught in part or whole in school. The complex social issues it addresses and the life-styles of the thousands of immigrants who entered the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century certainly deserve more than a few paragraphs in a history text, and Twenty Years at Hull-House helps fill the need for information on these topics. Moreover, since many of the people in the book are children, young readers can relate to the people and the varying life-style of many years ago.

Addams kept detailed notes on her activities and meetings, and the majority of the book is not fictionalized or dramatized. Addams does not attempt to portray herself as a heroine saving the world. She keeps her focus on the necessity of Hull-House and on the people who were served by it.

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