How the Other Half Lives

by

Jacob A. Riis

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Beer Symbol Icon

One of the elements of tenement-house life that Riis examines is the high rate of saloons packing the neighborhoods home to the poorest residents of New York. Riis characterizes “stale-beer dives” and other alcohol shops as a natural outgrowth of poverty. A typical Progressive-era reformer in this way, Riis assumes a moral connection between alcohol and moral depravity, even if he sees alcoholism as the result and not the cause of the unjust social and economic conditions of the poor. Drinking alcohol is, in his characterization, what the poor do because they are in need of some kind of solace for their situation. But stale-beer dives are also some of the only spaces of leisure open to this population. Places like reading rooms, cafés, and gardens, for instance, are absent from tenement neighborhoods: as a result, Riis argues, the saloons are both an emblem and a source of the worst things that can be found in the poorest areas of the city.

Beer Quotes in How the Other Half Lives

The How the Other Half Lives quotes below all refer to the symbol of Beer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
). 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.
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 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:
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How the Other Half Lives PDF

Beer Symbol Timeline in How the Other Half Lives

The timeline below shows where the symbol Beer appears in How the Other Half Lives. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Corruption   Theme Icon
Photography and Visual Language Theme Icon
...tenement. Usually water doesn’t reach higher than the second floor because of shoddy plumbing, though beer can easily quench thirst during rooftop picnics in the summer, Riis says. (full context)
Chapter 7
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Photography and Visual Language Theme Icon
The Progressive Era and Immigration Theme Icon
Riis describes a midnight raid on one of the stale-beer dives in the Bend. Riis accompanies the sergeant into one tenement, where they stumble over... (full context)
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Photography and Visual Language Theme Icon
The Progressive Era and Immigration Theme Icon
...for six months. Seventy-five tramps are then arrested in the four small rooms beyond the beer cellar, including a woman with a new-born baby on a heap of dirty straw. Back... (full context)
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Photography and Visual Language Theme Icon
The stale-beer dive is known in the Bend as the “two-cent restaurant,” home to home-brewed and unlicensed... (full context)
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
...the police station, he might return to honest work, but might also return to the beer dives, as one sergeant tells Riis. (full context)
Chapter 15
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
...said that he didn’t go to school nor to church; he never bought bread, only beer.   (full context)
Chapter 18
Poverty and Morality  Theme Icon
Corruption   Theme Icon
The Progressive Era and Immigration Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 24
Housing, Reform, and Improvement  Theme Icon
The Progressive Era and Immigration Theme Icon
Riis admits that education works slowly: he’s seen the police break up beer dives only to see them rearrange themselves and become ever more destructive. The rapid increase... (full context)