The Condition of Poverty

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is an essay I did in school concerning poverty. We had to connect two outside sources to a short story or poem read in class. I apologize for any grammatical errors that I didn't catch. Enjoy and please comment.

Submitted: October 14, 2009

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Submitted: October 14, 2009



The Condition of Poverty


Oliver Zimbelman


There are a variety of conditions which we as human beings all share in together. They are feelings, thoughts, situations, and desires which connect us all, regardless of demographics. These things guide us and make each of us who we are. Unfortunately, poverty is one of these things. Since the beginning of time, poverty has ravaged people in every corner of the earth. It is something which can bring out the best or worse in us all. Dealing with poverty truly is a testament to the strength of human motivation, albeit something that no one should have to experience.


When examining the universality of poverty, one need only look to literature to find it described in full force. In “The Heavenly Christmas Tree” a short story by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the reader finds a story concerning a small boy: cold, lonely, and without a family to support him. The story begins without hope and ends in relatively the same way. The author writes: “This boy woke up that morning in a cold damp cellar. He was…shivering with cold.” He goes on to say the boy was “terrible hungry…but could not find a crust anywhere.”(Dostoyevsky) This child is obviously feeling very alone in the world, yet he reacts to the world around him as a human being, nothing more or less. The child is simply trying to live his life with little regard to his situation, although it does affect him in a major way.


 The boy has always been extremely poor, and therefore he knows nothing else. However, during the story he finds himself in situations where he comes into contact with people obviously different than himself; people better off financially who want little to do with this poor child. The boy is shocked by the way these people live and the items which they have at their disposal. The child has nothing to eat and here is a shop full of cakes! He looks longingly at the beautiful confections, but a “lady went up to him hurriedly and slipped a kopeck in his hand.”(Dostoyevsky) These people were scared of what they were not use to, just as the poor child was amazed at the things he saw in the city that day.


The single factor which makes this story so horribly fascinating and yet so absolutely depressing, is the attitude with which the child accepts his fate. Although he knows there is more to life than the poverty which he has endured through his life, he also is so disheartened that he accepts his situation and eventually even his own death. Although the author would like to think that the child goes to heaven and enjoys a Christmas free from the pain and suffering of his poverty-ridden life, Dostoyevsky admits that in the end he could not say “whether that could have happened or not.”(Dostoyesvsky)


“The Heavenly Christmas Tree” is a classic story of poverty. The child is alone in every sense of the word. He has no family, no food, and minimal shelter. His mood changes from hopelessness and depression to a small sense of hope and happiness which quickly passes again when the direness of his situation is revealed in some sudden way. This story is one which contains little hope. The author wrote it to deal with his own feelings and come to grips with the reality that poverty was and is a very real condition in our world. The story can also be used to teach a lesson: What can we do to increase our tolerance and deal with this world-wide problem?


In order to experience poverty at its worst, one needs only to step out the front door. Here in America, poverty is becoming a worse problem than before due to the current recession. To connect my thesis statement and the evidence above to another source, I am going to go into detail about the situation in present-day Detroit, Michigan where poverty is now just a fact of life for many residents. Today in Detroit, you will find a city which has experienced the worse the recession has to offer, and then some. Its residents deal with issues that some parts of the country (Sioux Falls for example) can only read about in the paper or watch on CNN. 28.9% of the residents in Detroit are unemployed. It’s a staggering number considering that the unemployment rate in New Orleans peaked at 11%, and that city was nearly demolished by a hurricane. It also says a lot about the situation that Detroit’s residents are finding themselves in. With the employment rate that high and the city unable to provide even the barest of services, the quality of living has become severely comprised. Detroit is now the most dangerous city in America, with the murder rate growing and 7 out of 10 murders remaining unsolved. The physical side of the city is in no better shape. One Detroit native said “…The surviving homes look as if the wrecker’s ball is the only thing that could relieve their pain.”(Okrent) Obviously, there is a direct link between the decaying city and poverty of its residents.


Although it would take more than one essay to describe how Detroit found itself in this predicament, one can say with relative certainty that it has been a work in progress; the recent recession only a part of why this once great city is now decaying at such an alarming rate. To further illustrate the problem of poverty in Detroit, I will rely on a rapper by the name of Eminem, someone who grew up on the streets of Detroit and knows just how debilitating poverty can become.


In the song “Mockingbird”, Eminem tells the story of a life restrained by the chains of poverty. His music tells the story of a side of Detroit that more people can relate to: “…every house that we lived in either kept getting’ broken into and robbed or shot up on the block.” He goes on to say: “…your mom was savin’ money for you in a jar…so you could go to college; almost had a thousand dollars ‘till someone broke in and stole it.”(Mathers) He writes it from his own personal experiences with poverty and the awful effects which it can have on a person. It was only from his own extreme motivation and unwillingness to continue the life he was leading that he was able to rise out of poverty and become the person he is today. Unfortunately, as told in his music, the life that he left being has left scars on him which will never completely disappear.


As seen form these two sources detailing the poverty situation in Detroit, we know that the condition of poverty exists everywhere, even right here in America. It is so debilitating that it can destroy entire cities, but most of its pain is felt in the home, by common people like you and me. Poverty is a cycle; one which is increasingly difficult to escape from in these hard economic times. It takes a very special determination to rise up from the depths of poverty and create something positive out of a dire situation.


Poverty is a human condition felt in every corner of the world by any number of people. Its devastating effects are shown in everyday life. Poverty is something which humans have attempted to stomp out through the ages, but like a disease it continues to ravage people even right here in America where we consider ourselves above such things. Poverty has the ability to bring out the best and worse in people, guiding us to do things which under normal circumstances we would never even have considered. It installs in us a sense of urgency unfelt by any who have not experienced it. But those who have experienced it share a common bond and know what it is like to experience the human condition, the disease, which is poverty.

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