Shelves: americana They ask me if its true that when we bury somebody we dig em out in four, five years and replace em with another one. I tell em no. When these people is buried, hes buried here for life. Elmer Ruiz, Gravedigger It is not really accurate to call Terkel the author of this book.
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Shelves: americana They ask me if its true that when we bury somebody we dig em out in four, five years and replace em with another one. I tell em no. When these people is buried, hes buried here for life. Elmer Ruiz, Gravedigger It is not really accurate to call Terkel the author of this book. Terkel serves as a stenographer and redactor, recording interviews and editing them into readable format.
This is no mean feat, of course. The ability to get everyday people to open up and share their private thoughts is an uncommon skill.
The result is a panoramic view of people and professions, encompassing nearly every imaginable attitude towards work, representing a wide swath of the public without reducing variation to a single narrative. Books like this are especially valuable, considering how prone we are to taking work for granted. Work, as an institution, is a fairly recent phenomenon, the child of the Industrial Revolution. Farmers work very hard, of course, but the rhythm of their work is dictated by the seasons; there are no set hours and no salary.
The way we make our living is radically different from how our ancestors did; and yet work, nowadays, seems like the most natural thing in the world, more eternal and more important than marriage.
This lack of scrutiny is especially striking, considering that our jobs dictate our social status, consume most of our time, and are usually the number one thing we complain about. So what are the common themes of these interviews? One is boredom. Adam Smith famously proclaimed the economic benefits of the division of labor, which allows workers to be orders of magnitude more productive. But Smith was also wary of the dangers of this division: The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur.
He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. Well, as Terkel shows, this is not quite accurate.
Even the workers who have worked their whole lives doing very repetitive work show themselves thoughtful and sometimes brilliant in their interviews. I know this from experience: though apparently harmless, boredom can be hellish, and can wreak serious harm on your psyche. And it is a ubiquitous malady, either from repetition or simple inactivity. Nora Watson, an editor in an advertising agency, says: Jobs are not big enough for people.
A job like mine, if you really put your spirit into it, you would sabotage immediately. So you absent your spirit from it. Connected to this boredom is a kind of brutish narrowness. Every person, even the most ordinary, is radically unique, with their own perspective, talents, and propensities. Jobs, on the other hand, often require only a very limited set of skills, forcing the worker to neglect a large part of their potential and to put aside their own priorities and preferences.
But they wanted to become champions. They had to focus themselves on their one thing completely. His primary force when he becomes champion is his ego trip, his desire to excel, to be somebody special. To some degree, he must dehumanize himself. Some workers feel dissatisfied because of the disconnect between their jobs and the rest of their lives. We live in one place, work in another place, and play in a third.
It goes without saying that inequality—economic, social, political—is a major source of concern. Roberto Acuna, a farm worker, has this to say: I began to see how everything was so wrong. They treat him like a farm implement. In fact, they treat their implements better and their domestic animals better.
They have heat and insulated barns for the animals but the workers live in beat-up shacks with no heat at all. Curiously, the bosses and elites on the other end of the differential, though more satisfied with their work, sometimes displayed alarmingly unhealthy or superficial mindsets: My interest in motorcycles was for the money originally.
I saw this was going to be a big field. Later, business becomes a game. Money is the kind of way you keep score. How else you gonna see yourself go up? You get a thrill out of seeing the business grow. Just building it bigger and bigger… In America, where our jobs are one of the main determinants of our social standing, it is no surprise that status anxiety plays a big role in worker dissatisfactions.
So this guy, he manages this, he manages that, see? And then there is that universal blight of modernity, the lack of meaning. The feeling of being useless, of wasting your talents, of working solely for profit or a paycheck, plagued many of the subjects in this book. This was most heartrending when expressed by the older subjects. I led a useless life. My hopes, my aspirations—what I did with them.
What being a press agent does to you. What have I wound up with? Rooms full of clippings. There are many workers, often in very ordinary jobs, who report great satisfaction. This seemed to be associated with jobs that require a lot of social interaction. I experienced this myself, when I switched from a desk job to teaching. How else can I learn about people? How else does the world come to me? One of the most satisfied subjects in this book is Babe Secoli, a supermarket checker.
She is satisfied with her work because she does it well. There are many professions which no longer exist, mostly due to automation. But as a portrait of work, as a modern institution, Terkel has given us something timeless.
These books tie their diverse content together with themes. These themes take the form of subtitles. Some books have only one theme the theme of Book One is "Working the Land" ; others have several. Book One[ edit ] Book One contains stories by three newspaper delivery boys, a farmer, a farm worker, a farm woman, a deep miner and his wife, a strip miner, and a heavy equipment operator. Here is a sample: "Working in the fields is not in itself a degrading job. Like we have no brains.