Nickel and Dimed

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Themes and Colors
The Economics of Poverty Theme Icon
Labor Theme Icon
Shame and Solidarity Theme Icon
Individuals and Corporate Rhetoric Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Nickel and Dimed, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

When Barbara Ehrenreich set out to write the book that would become Nickel and Dimed, her stated goal was pretty straightforward: to see if she could pay for rent, food, and other bills as a low-wage worker. As Barbara came to learn, and explains throughout her book, such a goal is far from simple. Barbara reveals the complications that arise from trying to survive on a minimum-age job—complications often hidden to those who aren’t…

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In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara sets out to experience the working life of low-wage laborers first-hand. She is, of course, interested in poverty in general—as a journalist, Barbara had covered the topic extensively before writing this book—but here she is particularly concerned with the plight of the working poor. Labor is defined in economic terms throughout the book, as work performed in exchange for payment. But the term also serves to encapsulate the notion…

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Compounding the taxing nature of their work, low-wage laborers are often forced to feel like low-class citizens both by their employers and by society at large. Though Barbara is only temporarily inhabiting this world, she too is unable to escape the sense of shame she comes to feel from the way she is treated as a low-wage laborer. This is especially the case for occupations in which the economic gap between employers and employees is…

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Nickel and Dimed makes an explicit contrast between the experience of individual workers and the corporations for which they work. Indeed, the “corporation” is portrayed as a shadowy, distant entity that initially seems to have little impact on the daily working life of Barbara and her colleagues. However, Barbara soon comes to understand how much of low-wage work is dictated by both the needs and the rhetoric of corporations. Corporate rules are, in some cases…

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