In her essay “Serving in Florida” Barbara Ehrenreich raises a very serious issue of being a simple worker in the US and surviving on a salary of $6 to $10 per hour. She discusses this question based on her own experience and on the experience of her fellow workers and friends. She uses examples of waitresses, cooks, bartenders, and others. Ehrenreich discusses two major problems throughout her essay, but the underlying message of her work can be summarized as the inability of an average worker in the US to live a decent life having a job that is worthy of a human being.
The author starts her essay with a clear identification of the problem. The very first sentence of the essay sets the atmosphere and gives a reader an idea of the essay topic. The writer states that “I could drift along like this, in some dreamy proletarian idyll, except for two things” (Ehrenreich 1, par. 1). This introductory sentence tells the reader a lot. First, that the author is an average worker and that she could actually enjoy living such a simple and calm life. Second, there are two major problems that intervene with her desire. She doesn’t give much time to guess what the problems are. On the contrary, Ehrenreich starts discussing the first one – the managers – right in the next sentence. According to the author, the managers are usually people who were simple workers (e.g. waiters, housekeepers, clerks) earlier. However, they are now totally different people as is obvious form hew own words. “But everyone knows they have crossed over to the other side, which is, crudely put, corporate as opposed to human” (Ehrenreich 1, par. 1) This is only the first instance in the essay where the author stresses the difference between the corporate side of the business and the human side. After discussing the first problem Ehrenreich transitions to the next one. Another problem, apart from the inhuman treatment by the managers, is the challenge to survive on the salary of a waitress.
The structure of the essay is clear and the arguments are easy to follow. As we have seen, the author starts with the discussion of one problem and then goes to the next one. She uses accounts of different people to support her arguments. One of the most striking pieces of evidence is a small survey she’s conducted among her colleagues. It was about the housing arrangements each of them had. As it turned out, not a single one of them had comfortable living conditions. To say more, hardly anyone lived in an actual apartment or a house. Some lived in trailers, others in their cars, yet others rented a room in an inn. In almost all cases, the rooms were overcrowded and people shared their space with other unrelated people.
The style of the assay is quite strong and deliberate. The way the author supports her arguments and her persistency in making her point deserves some respect. The style of the essay is appealing to many readers who want to hear true life accounts of other people in their country. The tone of the essay is decidedly negative and the bitter sarcasm is felt throughout the whole work. It is not difficult to realize that Barbara Ehrenreich despises the managers who changed from common people to “big bosses”. Together with that she has a hard time understanding the situation in general – why average hard-working people are doomed to a life of misery and animal-like survival. One of the reasons why the author’s arguments are so striking is the amount of the details she uses to draw a painfully clear picture of people’s lives. She describes the physical pain and emotional devastation after long hours of work, uses dialogues to set the reader among those workers, describes the working conditions and specific tasks they have to perform on a daily basis.
Throughout the whole essay her logical argument about the extremely low conditions of human life is intertwined with descriptions of her own life. This mixture of arguments is one of the most amazing and extremely powerful aspects of the essay. Right at the moment when the audience is somewhat used to the situation of the people described the author gives another terrifying detail about her own life or draws a particularly vivid picture of the suffering of people in those inhumane conditions. For instance, here is a part of description she offers of her workplace, Jerry’s. “The kitchen is a cavern, a stomach leading to the lower intestine that is the garbage and dishwashing area, from which issue bizarre smells combining the edible and the offal: creamy carrion, pizza barf, and that unique and enigmatic Jerry’s scent, citrus fart. The floor is slick with spills, forcing us to walk through the kitchen with tiny steps, like Susan McDougal in leg irons” (Ehrenreich 3, par. 3). This description not only gives an idea of the working conditions but also describes the place that serves food to people. This attracts even more sympathizers because suddenly all those objective readers are turned into infuriated customers who eat their lunches and dinners in a place that the author compares to the human digestive system.
All the desperation of the author is clear in her decision to treat her work as something that is not happening regularly but rather is a onetime instance. “The only thing to do is to treat each shift as a one-time-only emergency: you’ve got fifty starving people out there, lying scattered on the battlefield, so get out there and feed them!” (Ehrenreich 4, par. 4) The author compares her job to a battlefield as if she is at war and has to survive just couple of hours of the battle to have a minute’s rest and return to the fight with all strength that she’s got.
Summarizing the analysis of the essay the conclusion can be drawn that Barbara Ehrenreich is a very powerful writer who uses all her talent to send her message to the readers. There is a great deal of personal feelings in the essay. While this approach is sometimes not suitable for scientific articles, in this particular instance it gives the author a lot of advantages in winning over her audience and stirring deep emotions in their hearts.
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