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Serving in Florida by Barbara Ehrenreich Plot and Analysis

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In Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay “Serving in Florida,” she argues that people living on minimum wages cannot lead a healthy and happy lifestyle. She talks about her exhausting experiences in the workforce and her experiment with multiple minimum wage jobs. Ehrenreich begins this experiment in Key West, Florida where she was hired by a local restaurant known as Hearthside. Throughout her 40-hour weeks at Hearthside, she noticed that her supervisors are lazy and that the pay is not financially viable. Ehrenreich realized that she needs to get a second job in order to pay her bills for the month and is hired by Jerry’s. She worked continuously from 8am to 10pm without any breaks. Immediately, Ehrenreich concluded that working at both restaurants was beyond her capability, leading her to resign from Hearthside. After an exhausting month of waitressing, Ehrenreich found a housekeeping job at a hotel connected to Jerry’s where she could easily transition from one job to the next without having to drive. However, her first day was spent cleaning nineteen rooms and was scolded by the manager at Jerry’s for being unfit to serve four demanding customers. At this point, Ehrenreich had given up on these jobs and decided to leave Key West for good. Ehrenreich’s audience are the individuals who are ignorant towards the lower class. She consistently attempts to compare the emotions and frustration felt by those who are working on a minimum wage to those who are fortunate. In the introduction of her essay, Ehrenreich makes it known that she is privileged which leads her readers to understand the purpose of her experiment. She explains her experience in order to enlighten her readers, many of whom may not have had personal experience with the situation. In “Serving in Florida,” Ehrenreich successfully builds her credibility through personal anecdotes, appeals to the reader’s emotions by using vivid imagery, and provides factual information about low income jobs.

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Ehrenreich effectively crafts the rhetorical strategy by establishing ethos, pathos and logos to support her arguments. She subtly focuses on the audience’s lack of knowledge about minimum waged jobs, attempting to show the struggles of the lower class. She includes several anecdotes to demonstrate the perspective she has gained from her coworkers, making the reading more personal and convincing. Within her first week of waitressing, Ehrenreich tells herself “So unless I want to start using my car as a residence, I have to find a second or alternative job”. By offering herself an ultimatum of living in a car, the reader can easily conclude that low-waged jobs cannot lead to a satisfactory lifestyle. She further establishes her claim by conducting a survey on her coworkers. She compiled a list of all her coworker’s personal issues proving that they are all financially unstable with unconventional living situations and short-term debts. Furthermore, one of Ehrenreich’s coworkers, Gail, told her that “she swore never to work for a corporation again. You give and you give, and they take”. By illustrating Gail’s personal perspective, Ehrenreich continues to strengthen her credibility. She effectively uses her coworker’s voice in order to establish her argument and precisely show the unfortunate situations surrounding her. Her use of direct and indirect experiences of the lower class heavily impacts the reader by giving them an opportunity to step into the shoes of the poor.

Throughout the essay Ehrenreich uses vivid imagery, to build a deeper and broader connection between herself and the audience. She serves as the protagonist and draws upon the reader’s sympathy by educating them on the current situations faced by people earning minimum wages. Similar to the appeals of ethos, Ehrenreich emphasizes the way workers are treated and the initiative for change, especially in the restaurant business. They deal with unconventional living situations, long and exhausting hours, and unsanitary working conditions. For example, Ehrenreich says that “the kitchen is a cavern which issue bizarre smells combining creamy carrion, pizza barf, and citrus fart…Sinks are clogged with scraps of lettuce and decomposing lemon wedges”. Through such detailed explanations of the scene, the audience can visualize the situation and step into Ehrenreich’s shoes. Her use of metaphors, such as comparing the kitchen to a cavern, communicates complex images and feelings towards the reader. She purposely plays on the reader’s emotions to try to convince them of her side, which is meant to broaden their perspective on the struggling lower class. Moreover, she provides another example of imagery, “Put your hand down on any counter and you risk being stuck to it by the film of ancient syrup spills, and this is unfortunate because hands are utensils here” . The vivid picture provided by Ehrenreich’s first-hand experience makes herself vulnerable to the situation which gives weight to her main claim of working in unsanitary conditions. Furthermore, Ehrenreich observes that Jerry’s insanitation forces the employees “to walk through the kitchen with tiny steps, like Susan McDougal in leg irons.” The comparison between tiny steps and Susan McDougal in leg irons provides the audience with additional details about the conditions in the kitchen. Through the use of pathos, Ehrenreich makes a solid argument that people earning minimum wage cannot live the “American Dream.”

Lastly Ehrenreich uses factual information throughout the essay to back up her claims, therefore appealing to logos. For example, she states that “with wages included this amount to about the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour”. By employing such inductive reasoning, Ehrenreich provides substance to her overall message about the wages being extremely low. She gives her audience no reason to doubt her argument because she provides concrete facts from notable sources throughout the piece. Additionally, Ehrenreich goes on to say that “according to a 1997 report of the National Coalition for the Homeless, nearly one-fifth of all homeless people are working full or part time jobs”, which allows the reader to gain sufficient background knowledge of her argument. Throughout her argument, Ehrenreich acts as a defense attorney through the use of logos which ultimately helps the reader connect her claims to the real world. Her sardonic and conversational tone strengthens her argument because the audience is able to easily relate to the factual information she presents in the essay. She is able to build a deep connection with the audience through the data she provides and her personal reactions to the situations she was faced with.

Overall “Serving in Florida” by Barbara Ehrenreich outlines the complicated obstacles that the lower class has to deal with on a daily basis. She incorporates heavy use of the rhetorical triangle such as ethos, pathos, and logos in order to convince the audience of her main claims. Over the course of the essay Ehrenreich builds her credibility through personal anecdotes, attempting to enlighten the reader about the struggles of living off of a minimum wage job. She also gains sympathy from her audience by targeting the reader’s emotions through the use of vivid imagery. Ehrenreich’s use of factual information focused on the reader’s lack of knowledge backs up many of her claims. Overall, she effectively utilizes the rhetorical triangle and rhetorical strategies, emphasizing her prominent message of the lower-class struggles. 

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