Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

The interpretation of The Spirit of Capitalism in Nickel and Dimed College

People have many motivations for working. For some it is more than just a paycheck, but also a fulfillment of something within themselves. Others are truly passionate about the jobs they choose and what they do. Some have the goal to simply get rich and retire early. Then there are the workers such as the ones in Nickel and Dimed. These low-paid employees are motivated to work by the necessity to pay bills and eat. It is possible to utilize Max Weber’s interpretation of the “Spirit of Capitalism” as a lens to look into Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and to understand the sense of irony and entrapment that Ehrenreich locates in American capitalism.

In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich includes the experiences of her co-workers – mostly women –in her investigative journey. She writes about how her co-workers were “oppressed” by being subjected to demeaning and taxing activities with unreasonably low wages. Gail, one of Ehrenreich’s co-workers, perfectly describes her manager’s attitude as “They don’t cut you no slack. You give and they take” (42). This point is further explored by Ehrenreich through the quote:

Cooks want to prepare tasty meals, servers want to serve them graciously, but managers are there for only one...

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