How the Other Half Lives

by

Jacob A. Riis

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How the Other Half Lives: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Riis now turns to the reign of saloons in downtown New York: he once counted 4,065 below 14th Street, compared to 111 Protestant churches and chapels. They are more prevalent wherever the poorest tenements are to be found, and take the place of any reading-room or coffee-shop that might otherwise occupy the storefronts of these neighborhoods.
For Riis, places like coffee-shops or reading-rooms should—like parks and other green spaces—be cornerstones of housing reform. We can’t afford to think of them as extra benefits, he argues, since they directly influence the state of the neighborhood.
Themes
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Photography and Visual Language Theme Icon
The Progressive Era and Immigration Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Riis quotes Health Department statistics that show just how concentrated the saloons are in the city’s most wretched areas. Many of these saloons are owned by wealthy and prominent New York citizens, a number of whom have positions as city and state politicians. There are also, though, many saloons that remain unlicensed and largely uncounted.
Here Riis draws attention to the tragic irony that many of New York’s wealthiest citizens, even while claiming to know nothing about the plight of the city’s poorest, actually benefit by exploiting and corrupting these populations.
Themes
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Corruption   Theme Icon
The Progressive Era and Immigration Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Though the saloons may hang signs announcing that they won’t sell to children, that ostensible submission to the law is little more than a joke. Riis recounts a story from the newspaper about a boy who carried beer all day one Saturday to his father’s shop on the East Side, and who crept into a cellar to sleep off the effects of his own drinking: not until Monday morning was he found dead. The saloon breeds poverty, corrupts politics, and fosters crime, Riis says—but its worst influence is on the child, trapped by the “growler” (slang for a container holding beer).
Riis’s direct experience with these saloons is supplemented by other stories, including this anecdote from a newspaper. Many Progressive reformers of the time wanted to ban the sale of alcohol entirely (and by 1920, they would temporarily succeed). The fact that children in these neighborhoods reportedly drank beer like their parents would have been particularly shocking to many readers.
Themes
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Corruption   Theme Icon
The Progressive Era and Immigration Theme Icon