The book begins with an excerpt from a religious poem entitled “A Parable” by James Russell Lowell, which contrasts the pomp and splendor of the rulers and kings that hosted Jesus with the poverty of those whom Jesus preferred.
The use of this poem as epigraph signals the author’s commitment to joining Christian morality with a social and economic understanding of poverty.
Jacob Riis’s preface describes his belief that there is something to be learned from anyone’s experience, even a lowly newspaper man like himself. He also thanks friends and colleagues who have helped him in his writing.
Riis’s appeal to the value of “anyone’s” experience prefigures his insistence on paying close attention to the lives of those often ignored by the more privileged.