How the Other Half Lives

by

Jacob A. Riis

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Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Martino Fine Books edition of How the Other Half Lives published in 2015.
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Introduction Quotes

Long ago it was said that “one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” That was true then. It did not know because it did not care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath, as long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat. There came a time when the discomfort and crowding below were so great, and the consequent upheavals so violent, that it was no longer an easy thing to do, and then the upper half fell to inquiring what was the matter.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Might not the conference have found in the warning of one Brooklyn builder, who has invested his capital on this plan and made it pay more than a money interest, a hint worth heeding: “How shall the love of God be understood by those who have been nurtured in sight only of the greed of man?”

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

Where are the tenements of to-day? Say rather: where are they not?

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

In their place has come this queer conglomerate mass of heterogeneous elements, ever striving and working like whiskey and water in one glass, and with the like result: final union and a prevailing taint of whiskey.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Leaving the Elevated Railroad where it dives under Brooklyn Bridge at Franklin Square, scarce a dozen steps will take us where we wish to go. With its rush and roar echoing yet in our ears, we have turned the corner from prosperity to poverty. We stand upon the domain of the tenement.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Danger and trouble—of the imminent kind, not the everyday sort that excited neither interest nor commiseration—run even this common clay into heroic moulds on occasion; occasions that help us to remember that the gap that separates the man with the patched coat from his wealthy neighbor is, after all, perhaps but a tenement. Yet, what a gap! and of whose making?

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 31-32
Explanation and Analysis:

Suppose we look into one? No.—Cherry Street. Be a little careful, please! The hall is dark and you might stumble over the children pitching pennies back there.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

What if I were to tell you that this alley, and more tenement property in “the Bend,” all of it notorious for years as the vilest and worst to be found anywhere, stood associated on the tax-books all through the long struggle to make its owners responsible, which has at last resulted in a qualified victory for the law, with the name of an honored family, one of the “oldest and best,” rich in possessions and in influence, and high in the councils of the city’s government?

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

The meanest thief is infinitely above the stale-beer level. Once upon that plane there is no escape. To sink below it is impossible; no one ever rose from it. One night spent in a stale-beer dive is like the traditional putting on of the uniform of the caste, the discarded rags of an old tramp.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beer
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

At the risk of distressing some well-meaning, but, I fear, too trustful people, I state it in advance as my opinion, based on the steady observation of years, that all attempts to make an effective Christian of John Chinaman will remain abortive in this generation; of the next I have, if anything, less hope.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Granted, that the Chinese are in no sense a desirable element of the population, that they serve no useful purpose here, whatever they may have done elsewhere in other days, yet to this it is a sufficient answer that they are here, and that, having let them in, we must make the best of it.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

As scholars, the children of the most ignorant Polish Jew keep fairly abreast of their more favored playmates, until it comes to mental arithmetic, when they leave them behind with a bound. It is surprising to see how strong the instinct of dollars and cents is in them. They can count, and correctly, almost before they can talk.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

I state but the misgivings as to the result of some of the practical minds that have busied themselves with the problem. Its keynote evidently is the ignorance of the immigrants. They must be taught the language of the country they have chosen as their home, as the first and most necessary step.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:

As we stop in front of a tenement to watch one of these groups, a dirty baby in a single brief garment—yet a sweet, human little baby despite its dirt and tatters—tumbles off the lowest step, rolls over once, clutches my leg with unconscious grip, and goes to sleep on the flagstone, its curly head pillowed on my boot.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

If, when the account is made up between the races, it shall be claimed that [the Negro] falls short of the result to be expected from twenty-five years of freedom, it may be well to turn to the other side of the ledger and see how much of the blame is borne by the prejudice and greed that have kept him from rising under a burden of responsibility to which he could hardly be equal.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

The changing of Tompkins Square from a sand lot into a beautiful park put an end for good and all to the Bread and Blood Riots of which it used to be the scene, and transformed a nest of dangerous agitators into a harmless, beer-craving band of Anarchists. They have scarcely been heard of since. Opponents of the small parks system as a means of relieving the congested population of tenement districts, please take note.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 123-124
Explanation and Analysis:

There is nothing in the prospect of a sharp, unceasing battle for the bare necessaries of life, to encourage looking ahead, everything to discourage the effort. Improvidence and wastefulness are natural results.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

One may walk many miles through the homes of the poor searching vainly for an open reading-room, a cheerful coffee-house, a decent club that is not a cloak for the traffic in rum. The dramshop yawns at every step, the poor man’s club, his forum and his haven of rest when weary and disgusted with the crowding, the quarreling, and the wretchedness at home.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beer
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

A number of [saloons], on the contrary, had brought their owners wealth and prominence. From their bars these eminent citizens stepped proudly into the councils of the city and the State. The very floor of one of the bar-rooms, in a neighborhood that lately resounded with the cry for bread of starving workmen, is paved with silver dollars!

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beer
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

But of the thousands, who are travelling the road they trod to the end, with the hot blood of youth in their veins, with the love of life and of the beautiful world to which not even sixty cents a day can shut their eyes—who is to blame if their feet find the paths of shame that are “always open to them”?

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

Tenement-house reform holds the key to the problem of pauperism in the city. We can never get rid of either the tenement or the pauper. The two will always exist together in New York. But by reforming the one, we can do more towards exterminating the other than can be done by all other means together that have yet been invented, or ever will be.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

There is often tragic interest in the struggles of the ensnared wretches to break away from the meshes spun about them. But the maelstrom has no bowels of mercy; and the would-be fugitives are flung back again and again into the devouring whirlpool of crime and poverty, until the end is reached on the dissecting-table, or in the Potter’s Field.

Related Characters: Dr. Louis L. Seaman (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Potter’s Field
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

The man was arrested, of course, and locked up. To-day he is probably in a mad-house, forgotten. And the carriages roll by to and from the big stores with their gay throng of shoppers. The world forgets easily, too easily, what it does not like to remember.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

The sea of a mighty population, held in galling fetters, heaves uneasily in the tenement. […]

I know of but one bridge that will carry us over safe, a bridge founded upon justice and built of human hearts.

Related Characters: Jacob Riis (speaker)
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:
No matches.