How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis

Howthe Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis

Theauthor of Howthe Other Half Lives isa profound writer who by all means tries to explain social criticism.Riis was a Danish immigrant and worked in New York Tribune as apolice reporter (Buk-Swienty, 2008, p.23). The job gave him aplatform to familiarize himself with the most widely known slum,Mulberry Bend. Riis felt sympathy and distress of the people he wasworking for, and this is what intrigued the writing of this book.Riis wanted to create awareness to the people on how theenvironmental conditions affect the slum dwellers. He used a camerato take photographs to expose the dangers that the immigrantsunderwent. Later, there was an invention of a flash camera which heused to take pictures during his rounds at night. He was able to takepictures at night, therefore, exposing the darkest part of the city.Riis used these photographs later in his books, lectures, andarticles.

Inhis book, Riis aims to enlighten and expose the plight of the poor asa result of environmental conditions. He has explained the dirtyliving conditions of the slums in New York City in 1880’s. Riisrecorded in documents the exploitation, filthy, overcrowding anddiseases that encounter the people. Journalist used these conditionsof the slum in future to expose corruption and scandal. In his work,Jacob classified the poor into two groups. The first group includedwomen and children who deserved assistance while the other grouprequired minimal assistance comprising numerous men.Themen were either obstinate criminals or remained unemployed. His bookis rich in unapologetically cruel judgment about the Irish whom heregarded to be more unruly, the Italians due to their ignorance, theJews and Chinese. Riis in his work did not judge the black and thewomen (Buk-Swienty, 2008, p.27).

Riisin his book has drawn a chart that gives a comparison between thetenement houses of the black and white people. Thewhite people paid small rents because they were considered as moreworthy than the blacks.Riis motivated the poor by pushing to the front the reform of thetenement in the country’s political agenda to put in place thehousing policies. Riis’s book motivated the police commissioner.The adore Roosevelt to act quickly and close the filthy worst houses.Later they became friends with the chief of police, and he referredRiis as the best American he ever knew and a crucial citizen of NewYork (Buk-Swienty, 2008, p.34). Riis had gone through all thesuffering of being homeless and starving, so he knew what thesepeople were undergoing.

Riisends with a plan of how to fix the problem. For example, hecontributed in remodeling and renewing the old houses where thetenements had to be licensed to minimize overcrowding. He alsoencouraged the use of law under the intense pressure of publicopinion to get rid of the worst plague spots. The punishment andarrest of the landlords and their agents who were the worst offendersand violated the law under the jurisdiction of the city would have apositive impact and a bright day for new Yorkers.

Riiswork was a reflection of the future instrument of change, artobjects, historical documents and proof of injustices. In conclusion,the cause of poverty was mostly brought about by the conditions thatsurrounded them. Riis work had a significant impact on the lives ofthe people he photographed. His book served as a vessel for change inthe living conditions of the needy people at that time.


Buk-Swienty,Tom. 2008. Theother half: the life of Jacob Riis and the world of immigrantAmerica.New York: W.W. Norton &amp Company.

Buk-Swienty, Tom. 2008. The other half: the life of Jacob Riis and the world of immigrant America. New York: W.W. Norton &amp Company.