Nickel and Dimed –

Throughout the first chapter of Nickel and Dimed, in which Barbara works in Florida, readers can see that she struggles between her desire, or needs, to format some kind of bond between those who she encounters and the restrictions her place of works places upon her.  While working at Hearthside she observes not only her coworkers but also those who she serves.  She quickly realizes that her current states of work is not only working as a waitress, but actually being a waitress; for without her, the people would not receive their food.  Throughout her eight to ten hour shift, the waitresses “utilize whatever bits of autonomy we have to ply our customers with the illicit calories that signal [their] love” (18).  In a way it seems that their time of leisure or moment of happiness is in making sure that those they are servicing  are happy with what they’re being provided.  This small act of satisfying other can also be seen as an act of defiance against the cooperation, or the “man” who sets all of the work place rules and supervises all of the workers.

So far it’s not stated in the book, but such acts of defiance make the employee feel not only like bad asses, but in a sense it gives them a feeling of wholeness, in the sense that they realize that they’re not owned by whom they work for and that they are capable of taking actions against their employer (without them ever, hopefully, finding out).  This argument is not to praise those who steal or vandalize their places of employment because this is never appropriate, but such acts remind the workers as well as the reader that the bus boys, bartenders, and servers him are barely ever given a second thought to, are autonomous  individuals.

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One thought on “Nickel and Dimed –

  1. And note Ehrenreich’s observation that, in a chain restaurant, the actual serving of the food is the annoying “friction” that impedes the generation of profit. So this “gift economy,” in which workers “steal” to give something to the customers, is part of a radically different relationship between people and goods than the dominant relationship of profit.

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