Friday, January 11, 2008

Scrubbing and Selling

Scrubbing in Maine

  1. Ehrenreich writes, "The main thing I learn from the job-hunting process is that, despite all the help-wanted ads and job fairs, Portland is just another $6-$7-an-hour town. This should be as startling to economists as a burst of exotic radiation is to astronomers" (59-60). What does she mean? And why is it so?


  2. None of Ehrenreich's jobs in Nickel and Dimed lends her much dignity, but her position with The Maids turns out to be particularly demeaning in certain ways. She explains, "Maids, as an occupational group, are not visible, and when we are seen, we are often sorry for it"(99). In what ways are she and her co-workers at The Maids not visible? Why do you think she includes herself here, using "we" to designate those who work in this area?


  3. In one episode with The Maids, Ehrenreich takes up for one of her coworkers, pointing out that she need not feel such allegiance to Ted, the manager.


    "What's all this worrying about Ted? He'll find someone else. He'll take anyone who can manage to show up sober at 7:30 in the morning. Sober and standing upright."

    "No," Holly finally interjects. "That's not true. Not everybody can get this job. You have to pass the test."

    The test? The Accutrac test? "The Test," I practically yell, "is BULLSHIT! Anyone can pass that test!" (113)

    Ehrenreich sees this as a moment of solidarity with her coworker, Holly. However, the moment proves to sever what has been a good relationship between them. Why might that be the case? In what ways might Ehrenreich have been misguided in her effort to empower and support Holly? 

  4. The author gives us a pretty cynically humorous account of a visit to a tent revival in Portland, commenting that "Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth" (68-69). What is Ehrenreich saying about the roots of Christianity and the way it's practiced today? Give examples from N&D to illustrate her point.


    Selling in Minnesota  

  5. Are you from a small town or even a neighborhood in a city into which Wal-Mart or a similar mega-chain has come?
    1. What has been the effect on your community?
    1. Do the plusses outweigh the minuses?


  6. Ehrenreich heads to Minneapolis for her third job as a minimum wage worker, applying at Wal-Mart. She really dislikes the employment "survey" which, she asserts, requires applicants "to lie up to 50 times in the space of 15 minutes." The compulsory drug testing also "rankles" in that its results can trump her many other "engaging qualities"—qualities that would likely make her an excellent employee.


    1. Have you ever had to participate in such surveys or testing for a job?
    2. How did the process make you feel?


    1. Ehrenreich's footnote (p. 128) reports that drug testing does not, in fact, insure productivity, its justification according to management. Which kind of evidence do you find more persuasive: the author's personal anecdotes and feelings — or— footnoted statistics and facts? Why?


  7. Thinking about language— what sorts of euphemisms do Wal-Mart and other such companies employ to describe who they are and what they do? For ex: customers = "guests" and workers = "associates (p. 154).


    1. What is the effect of such a practice on employees and on customers?
      1. What does it suggest about the company?

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