Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Making Nickels and Dimes

In the Novel Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich chooses jobs in order to provide 'daily bread'. However, her drive to always perform to the best of her ability allows her feel useful to the extent her executives allow.

Ehrenreich was raised on the working motto, "If you're going to do something, do it well. In fact, "well" isn't good enough by half. Do it better than anyone has ever done it before" (18). Ehrenreich is driven to succeed in not only writing but in any menial job performed. She finds meaning by completing tasks 'better than anyone has ever done it before'. She pushes herself above and beyond expectations set by superiors, she wishes to do well for herself: to find a sense of personal accomplishment.

While serving in Maine, Ehrenreich feels a personal attachment and obligation to her customers. She often sets high personal expectations, "Sometimes I play with the fantasy that I am a princess who, in penance for some tiny transgression, has undertaken to feed each of her subjects by hand" (19). Ehrenreich is finding meaning in serving by using her imagination to infuse her position with more power and responsibility. She dramatizes the situation by calling herself 'princess' and customers 'subjects'. She increases the stakes of her job by undertaking the task of 'feeding each subject by hand'. By increasing the accountability of her job and striving to achieve these goals, she allows her work to feel necessary and rewarding. Ehrenreich does not just show up to work wanting to just complete the tasks at hand and go home. By giving her customers extra croutons and kind polite greetings, she's not only doing an excellent job, she's also fulfilling a personal satisfaction.

As much as Ehrenreich strives to succeed, she is often hindered by rules and executive regulations. While working for a maids service in Maine, she is directly to clean with a damp rag and remove impurities only visible to the eye: to wipe. Because Ehrenreich was brought up to clean with boiling hot water, she remarks, "But the point at The Maids, apparently, is not to clean so much as to create the appearance of having been cleaned, not to sanitize but to create a kind of stage setting for family life" (76). The instructions of the maid service dissatisfied and irritated her to the point where she researched and asked professionals on correct cleaning techniques (shown in the same footnote as the quote above).  Her irritation is visible through words such as 'appearance' and 'stage setting'. She is not satisfied with creating a fake setting. It angers her that just going through pointless motions and not doing a quality cleaning job of 'sanitation'. The cleaning job feels pointless and she looses her sense of usefulness. She cannot feel accomplished in this line of service work because she knows her work is not really helping actually clean the house. Because her bosses are more worried about money, time, and customer satisfaction, Ehrenreich is not able to apply her drive to make her cleaning job feel important.

Throughout Ehrenreich's service line work, we see her try to attack each day with fervor and a natural wish to please her customers. However, restrictive rules and regulations from higher up prevent her from fully satisfying her personal goals to achievement.

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