How They Lived

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Russel Sage History 311 Essay Assignment # 1

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis is an emotional picture book that has and still is shocking middle and upper class Americans . Riis created a sensation when he revealed to the world, combining detailed written descriptions with graphic photographs, the horrific conditions of New York City’s tenement housing. How the Other Half Lives raised many questions, such as how and why the poor are subjected to such terrible living conditions and how that environment affects them. Riis also reveals his fears and prejudices toward certain ethnic groups as he investigates each tenement in order to find some kind of solution.
The miserable surroundings Riis discusses throughout the length of his entire document focus on the tenement. The tenement is a building, which due to the immigration boom was modified by its landlord to create as many rooms as possible, therefore sacrificing the human necessities of air and light. Riis says,
“Large rooms were partitioned into several smaller ones, without regard to light or ventilation.”(Pg. 69)
These rooms were too small to house one family and too dark and stagnant too live in, yet it was common to have as many as three or four families in one “apartment”! Tenements are the pit of filth, hot, dank and disease ridden. It was very common for a whole building to be wiped out by a disease such as cholera. The tenants were so cramped that many babies died of “foul air”, the cause of which was no ventilation. Deaths due to the poor condition of the tenement houses were so great the first year…...

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