How the Other Half Lives


How the Other Half Lives was a genius work of photojournalism by Jacob Riis, documenting the squalid, or unpleasant, living conditions in New York City slums in the 1880s. It served as a basis for other muckraking works by exposing the terrible slums to the middle and upper-classmen of New York City; even President Theodore Roosevelt felt an urge to do something about the issue. Based on what we’ve read, we have come up with the conclusion that the wealthy thought almost nothing of poverty and the problems that arose from it; we only focus on a small section of the picture, often forgetting that we are a part of a bigger one.

Riis’s tactics for impacting a nation by describing the slums and the people that were there first starts when he explains why he wrote the book. Riis explains in his work that, “It did not know because it did not care” and also “Yet wealth looked away and hurried by…”. In other words, “hurried” infers that the wealthy were horrified by beggars on the street and made hastily to get away before trying to help them. Riis later describes the tenements of the little children, which were slum buildings and run-down apartments. Riis was right though, and the quote still rings true today: one half doesn’t know how the other half lives because, quite frankly, it just does not care.

In addition to this, Riis ,himself, was in a situation that most poor people face often in their homes. According to the text, “ Afterward, when I came down to the street I told a friendly policeman of my trouble. For some reason he thought it rather a good joke… It caught fire six times last winter, but it wouldn’t burn”. People ignored the danger that was around them and others. They seem to be blind to the apparent threat to their own safety. Riis gives the reader the implication that poverty was nothing more than just a subject. 

Overall, Riis’s works proved to have a huge social impact on America as he called for action. He addressed the varying conflicts of immigrants as they moved into the country and the willful ignorance of the wealthy as they deliberately turned their back on even blind beggars. But while everyone else was discontent with their own problems, they have paled in comparison to the struggles of the poor man.