Poverty and Its Connection to Culture Research Paper

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Jews Without Money and the Mumbai Slums

Michael Gold's 1930 "Jews without Money" is a clear example that history does not only repeat itself but creates a certain pattern out of which human kind cannot be taken out and redirected to another path. Taking the topic from Gold's book and comparing it to current cases of other slums throughout the globe, it can be said that the conditions of the poor people have not changed throughout the decades and even more, despite the international development, the discrepancies between the rich and the poor are constantly increasing.

The present research takes into account the way in which the living conditions of people in the slums of Mumbai (Dharavi) can be compared to the situations to those in "Jews Without Money" by Michael Gold. It is argued that the living conditions are similar, yet for the people living in the slums of Mumbai, similar to other slums in the world, the possibility of a new socialist regime, as it was the case in the 1930s, is not an option. This subject is dealt with from two perspectives. On the one hand, the conditions as mentioned by Gold in his book are blended with fiction and the need for making the story somewhat appealing for the reader. On the other hand, the realities in Dhavari, one of the largest slums in the world and clearly one of the most notorious are facts of a reality that is not necessarily subject for embellishment. The second perspective is provided by the historical context in which the action of the novel is set. More precisely, the author was a big supporter of the socialist economic approach and it is precisely the ending of the book that provides the key of the novel taken as a fictional work. By comparison, the dwellers in the Mumbai slums do not have the option of awaiting a "Messiah" that would take a political or social form. The projects that have been drafted to redevelop the slums are not aimed at maintaining the current number of dwellers in the slums, which would affect their way of being and existing nonetheless.

The living conditions that are presented in Gold's books are focused on the Jewish minority that came from Eastern Europe in the "Land of all opportunities," which has often been the label identifying the United States in recent centuries. However, the story in itself is not a success story about succeeding in achieving the American dream but rather a criticism at the expense of the capitalist means of economic development. The entire novel focuses on the harsh conditions that represent every day life for the dwellers of the Lower East Side in New York.

The more concrete focus is on a Jewish family that is unfortunately struck by bad luck and the sole provider of the family is the mother, as her husband and the father of her child cannot work due to a physical impairment. At the same time however, the novel is not necessarily about the particular drama that is challenging this family, but rather more a review through the lenses of a young adult of a decaying life in an environment of poor people that would come to experience the Great Depression. More precisely, "Had it been published a year or two earlier when the Jazz Age still seemed to be booming, it might well have gone unnoticed; had it been published a year or two later in the midst of the Depression, it might have seemed old hat. The collapse of the economy had ruined the plans and destroyed the dreams of a whole generation, as the collapse of Papa Granich's business and health twenty years earlier had ruined the plans and destroyed the dreams of Yitzhak-already-Isaac-already-Irwin Granich. Although Jews Without Money was not about the 1930s and did not emerge from a 1930s sensibility, having been composed in the 1920s, it seemed to many the pre-eminent 1930s novel." (Lauter)

From the onset it must be pointed out that the novel in itself is anchored in a historical background. This was provided by the beginning of the 20th century in which the two main economic doctrines emerged in competition. Therefore, on the one hand, the capitalist approach had proven its worth in the great economic book after the end of the First World War. However, it must be underlined the fact that for Western economies that had been affected by the War, the capitalist reconstruction strategy was in fact the only way in which the economies would be able rise from the disastrous conflagration. On the other hand, the socialist movement had been the solution for the former Russian Empire countries, from which most of the Jews came to the United States. The historical background is complete if added the increased threats to the Jewish population that this segment had been facing after the end of the War. Most Jews, one way or another, were inevitably forced to seek refuge in other countries, as there was a rising rejection in Europe targeting wealthy but also poor Jewish families. Therefore, the settlement of a lot of Jewish people in Lower East Side New York was a historical consequence of other events taking place on the European continent.

In terms of the dispute between capitalism and socialism, the mere difference in approaches would have favored the rich and not favor the poor. More precisely, the capitalist approach implies a free market, or at least a market that is not controlled by state authorities but rather by an "invisible" hand that would allow the supply and demand ration determine prices and economic exchanges. From such linear concepts, the standard of living would follow and differences between different working classes and inevitably between groups of people would arise. This is an important aspect because it sets the stage for the conditions Gold presented in the novel.

By contrast, socialism was an emerging economic and social concept. It had its roots in the Bolshevik revolution in the former Russian empire and, unlike capitalism, guaranteed equality among all social strata. In the conditions in which the world and the societies had been split by war and poverty, the issue of social and most importantly economic equality was extremely appealing, especially for the poor people. This is the reason why, most Eastern European countries had an appetite for a more socialist approach to economy, one that would become extremely visible after the Second World War. However, in the 1920s, socialism was not necessarily an economic theory to be reckoned with particularly because capitalism had provided the means for reconstruction. Even so, the existence of ghettoes as the one presented by Gold in his novel were the actual side-effects of capitalism, at least in the author's view, "There can be no freedom in the world while men must beg for jobs" (Gold) This is an important aspect in Gold's novel and it relates to the current day conditions in the slums throughout the world.

While the novel written by Gold provided an insider's view on the seen and unseen life of the ghettoes, at this moment, throughout the world, there are numerous slums in which people live in similar conditions, yet without any political or social aspiration or possibility to change their condition. One of these places is the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, one of the most developed cities in India, which however is neighboring "A city within a city, it is one unending stretch of narrow dirty lanes, open sewers and cramped huts." (BBC)

Similar to New York in the 1920s and 30s, Mumbai is a bustling financial center and at the heart of India's economic life. The city has often been characterized "Mumbai, the financial powerhouse of India, is also a major commercial center, and the headquarters to some of most respected Indian corporations and institutions apart from several high profile multinational subsidiary operations." (Bertaud) Currently, there are numerous projects under discussion to consider reorganizing the slums to create modern, clean dwellings and workplaces. However, this is not singular for Mumbai. "The island city is largely clear of slums except on the fringes, like Dharavi in the north, Antop Hill in the east, Geeta Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar in the south and Worli village in the west. Since 2005, the BMC's action against slumdwellers, as part of its road widening projects, seems to have had a transformative effect. Significant initiatives were the clearing of slums along Senapati Bapat Marg from Mahim to Elphinstone and P. D'Mello road from the General Post Office, Mumbai CST, to Wadala." (Lewis) Therefore, it must be pointed out that the issue with slums is not necessarily an isolated event in India, but rather a relatively common aspect.

The common issue with the existence of the slums in India is that the population is rather numerous and the space is rather limited. More precisely, studies have been conducted and show that Mumbai is among the cities with the highest…[continue]

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