In preparation for this reflection paper, I read the texts, reflected on my life experiences, and then identified the following key themes in my experience reading the texts: the notion of the American Anti-Myth and the idea that it might still be possible, but only when faced with the absolute extreme. I was extremely surprised at the negative reality presented by the readings, especially in regards to the lack of hope for rectification of the social woes in American society. In Shipler's The Working Poor: Invisible in America, a horrifying picture of American society is revealed. It discusses the working poor, who work hard but can never get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. While reading this work, I couldn't help but picture people just like Shipler was describing. More and more as he went into his discussions, I really connected with the working poor who suffer endlessly in the midst of a greedy, capitalist system that refuses to really acknowledge their hard work and efforts. Wall's The Glass House was an insatiable read, where no bit of preparation could have warned me about the raw nature of the story. It does still present the notion that the American Dream is possible, as seen in the protagonist's own rise out of prosperity. Yet, this seems only possible in the midst of failure. As Walls witnesses the hard times of her own poor parents, I feel that she and her siblings were discouraged from following in such horrible footsteps. From this perspective, it is only from chaos that we seem to be able to find stability.
In his work, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, Shipler discuses some disturbing aspects of current life here in American society. One of the most compelling was the interesting notion in the American Anti-Myth, which is the exact opposite of what made the United States look so promising for both citizens and immigrants alike. It is such an opposing image compared to the traditional notion of the American Dream, where anyone can raise themselves out of poverty through hard work and dedication. According to Shipler, the American Myth "still supposes that any individual from the humblest origins can climb to well-being" (Shipler 5). Yet, anyone in the United States today knows that this is merely just a myth. Much unlike this positive image of the enormous possibilities of social mobility, the Anti-Myth is a concept which paints a much darker picture of society in the United States today. In this myth, people work themselves endlessly, but are still left within the grips of poverty. Thus, their hard work and dedication never seem to pay off and they are stuck in an endless cycle of debt and poverty which leaves the quality of their lives drab and uncertain. These people work so hard, but are constantly kept in poverty and debt by society and its unwillingness to extend a helping hand when one is needed most. Yet, many are too proud themselves to even try to take any help which is offered because of their notions of the importance of hard work. To me, this was one of the most compelling aspects of Shipler's work. Essentially, this illustrates the extreme socio-economic stratification that continues to exist in American society. It does make me wonder, was the American Myth ever really a possibility? Despite its constant prevalence within the notion of what it is to be American, I don't really think it was ever as possible to reach as many might have made it seem.
Today, not everyone can reach the top of the social and economic ladder, no matter how hard they work. Everyone witnesses individuals who work laboriously and have nothing to show for it but further debt and dismay. I have personally seen many people who I unfortunately think are in this situation. Especially in today's fast food and retail culture, there are so many people working hard for large companies, yet are paid right at minimum wage and sometimes even denied basic healthcare and other working benefits. These individuals are the hard working people behind the scenes, where the rest of society sees them only when they need something. Without recognition or even appropriate compensation, these individuals pay the ultimate price of being caught up in the American Anti-Myth. It is an unfortunate reality which I have seen time after time, the myth which was a huge role in prompting me to seek higher education as a way to stay out of a daily grind that only puts me in a worse position than I was in yesterday.
Yet, Walls presents a much different story in her work, The Glass House. Walls herself was able to pull herself out of abject poverty, but it seems that this was only possible because she witnessed her parents struggle immensely, especially when they really hit rock bottom in Virginia. It was this experience of poverty that drove the children to move forward. On many ways this is the complete opposite from Shipler. Does this mean that the American Dream is still possible? Well, even when Walls reaches relative stability after she moves to New York, she is still haunted by her past experiences of poverty. In many ways, I see this as a statement that even if you rise above where you one were, you are still not really fully removed from it. Thus, there is no real movement fully out of poverty and there is always a possible risk of going back. Walls ends her story relatively well off, but she is nowhere near the Rockefeller or Morgan of the mythical rags to riches fame.
What Did I Learn
There was so much that I learned through these two readings. I learned to look deeper into the world I witness everyday. The poor individuals who are normally ignored, despite their plight. Even when you do succeed in pulling yourself out of poverty, you are never really safe and there is always a possibility of landing right back at the bottom.
How Did I Learn It
Most of what I learned was through a visceral re-examination of American society as I have experienced it myself. I was presented with something I feel I may have known all along; yet, I had often been too caught up in my own melodramas to really understand the significance of it all. It was compelling for Shipler and Walls to portray what was always going on around me in such an objective manner that I can really begin to rethink the way I see the society I am a member of.
Why Does It Matter
All of this absolutely matters. So many of us walk through life without really understanding what our society does to its own people. The more informed we are regarding our society, the more we can do things to help improve conditions for everyone, not just the top elite who exploit the working class.
What Will I Do In The Future, In Light of the Learning
I know now that I need to be more conscious of those around me who do work hard but still may be in seriously troubled circumstances. It is important that it is incredibly important to acknowledge people for what they do, no mater how big and small. Yet, I also took the lessons learned here in a more positive way as well. This has inspired me to really work hard at receiving a higher education so that I will never find myself one of those poor souls working in dead end jobs and never being able to provide for myself in such a volatile economy, where hard work really does not mean anything in the end. Education is extremely important in regards…